The Free State MEC for Sport, Arts, Culture and Recreation Mrs. NS Leeto would like to take this opportunity to congratulate Free State athlete Wayde van Niekerk on his magnificent achievement at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. Van Niekerk became the first South African athlete to win an Olympic Gold medal at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
In front of a boisterous Rio crowd, Van Niekerk broke the first track and field world record of these Games with a blistering 43.03 second run from the unlikely position of lane eight, destroying the two previous Olympic champions in the process.
Michael Johnson’s world record of 43.18sec had stood since 1999 and rarely been seriously challenged. Van Niekerk did not impress in qualifying thus was drawn in lane eight, but when the gun went off he rocketed from the blocks.
Initially he looked to run too fast through the first 200m, and the expectation was that Kirani James, the defending champion from Grenada, and LaShawn Merritt of the United States would haul Van Niekerk in through the bends.
It didn’t happen. The South African in fact went faster in the second half of the race, sling-shooting into the home straight. His winning margin against one of the fastest 400m fields ever assembled is what makes this win even more special. It was, as Michael Johnson himself said on television commentary, “a massacre”.
To crown it all, and as indicative of the magnitude of the moment, another legend of the track, Usain Bolt, made a special plea to go all the way into the stands after winning his own race to go and embrace Van Niekerk in congratulation.
“I believed I could get the world record. I’ve dreamed of this medal forever, I am blessed” said Van Niekerk.
The Free State Department of Sport, Arts, Culture and Recreation is proud of this achievement as it puts the Province on the map. The Department supported van Niekerk through the Free State Sport Science Institute where van Niekerk went through an extensive conditioning and sport science programme. Van Niekerk then went on to earn a silver medal at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in 2014, and set the world alight with his performance in the 400m, becoming the world champion in this event.
Congratulating Van Niekerk, MEC Leeto said, “We are immensely proud as the people of the Free State to have a talented individual like Wayde in our midst. He is a testament to what dedication and hard work can achieve, and it is an honor to associate with a world champion as a province.
The anticipation of his performance throughout this year has paid dividends, and to claim the world champion, Olympic champion and world record holder as one of our own, is again a testament of the Free State Provincial Government’s commitment to sport excellence.”