|1st in Category Winner|
Move over Usain Bolt, there’s a new golden boy burning up the fast track and he’s from Cape Town.
At 24, Wayde van Niekerk is living up to the hype he created at the 2016 Olympic Games when he clinched gold in the men’s 400m, smashing Michael Johnson’s 1999 world record in the process. His Olympic success was preceded by his 400m gold at the 2015 World Championships.
It’s no wonder he won the award for Best Male Athlete at the Rio 2016 Olympics. It’s not just the medals that make van Niekerk a darling of the press. He’s well known for being a gentleman, on and off the track, and always takes the time to sign autographs for his growing number of fans. And then there’s his special relationship with his 74-year-old coach, Ans Botha, affectionately known as Tannie Ans.
The great-grandmother, a former sprinter and long jumper, has helped van Niekerk become the only athlete to run 100m, 200m and 400m in sub- 10, 20 and 44 seconds, ground-breaking achievements that speak to her influence and his enormous talent and determination. And let’s not forget the lesser run 300m event.
Van Niekerk recently beat Johnson’s world record of 30.85 when he crossed the finish line in 30.81 at the Golden Spike event in June 2017. Ironically, Johnson set the record in Pretoria 17 years ago.
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Many would agree that van Niekerk’s athletic ability is only matched by his humanitarian spirit. He recently donated R500 000 to Groote Schuur Hospital’s premature baby unit, a cause close to his heart as he was born prematurely at 29 weeks, weighing only 1.1kg.
He really is a miracle of nature that continues to defy the odds, on so many levels. A cousin of Stormers fullback, Cheslin Kolbe, our wunderkind is setting his sights on owning the 200m – an event that burst him onto the athletics scene back in 2011. In fact, the 400m was never part of the game plan.
He only moved to the full lap because Tannie Ans wanted him to work on his endurance while he was recovering from a hamstring injury.
But van Niekerk goes the distance, no matter the distance. And, at 24, he’s really only at the starting blocks of a career that will no doubt see him race harder, run faster, and break more records in the years to come.
Will one of them be the 200 meters at the Tokyo Olympics in 2020?
The world is waiting and watching.
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