Johannesburg - South African speedster Wayde van Niekerk believes beating Olympic champion Kirani James in record-breaking time at the Paris Diamond League meeting on Saturday was a "game changer".
Van Niekerk confirmed his status as one of the top 400m athletes in the world when he became the first African to dip below 44 seconds in the one-lap sprint.
The Bloemfontein-based athlete showed maturity in the race to comfortably beat James in a new South African record time of 43.96 seconds with the Grenadian taking second place clocking 44.17 sseconds.
Although the 22-year-old's stocks in world athletics have been rising over the last two years, claiming the scalp of James has fortified his belief that he could be accounted among the best in the world.
"It's still a process and I believe that was definitely a game changer, and now I know I need to now step up my game and try compete at a more consistent level and through that consistency I believe the results will follow," Van Niekerk told Sport24.
The South African knows full well he would have to produce similar performances if he wanted to be counted among the world's best.
James has dipped below 44 seconds on five occasions while current World Champion LaShawn Merritt, of the United States, have also have a handful of sub-44 times under his belt.
Van Niekerk spent 24 hours as the fastest African ever in the 400m and cracked the world top 10 all-time list before Botswana's Isaac Makwala reclaimed the African record with a time of 43.72s at the Resisprint meeting in Switzerland.
"To me it was definitely a breakthrough (running a sub-44 time) and it was something no-one believes until its finally done," Van Niekerk said of the feat.
"I'm just grateful and blessed that God chose me to be the first South African to do it."
Van Niekerk is spearheading a South African sprinting revolution with the men's 100m, 200m, 300m and 400m records falling over the last three months.
Olympic gold finallist Anaso Jobodwana was responsible for improving the 200m sprint twice in May while Pretoria speedster Henricho Bruintjies recently set a new 100m national mark.
Bruintjies' became only the third South African sprinter to dip below 10 seconds in the 100m on Sunday, only three days after Akani Simbine did so in Slovenia.
Van Niekerk, who boasts with both the 300m and 400m records, was excited about the rise of South African sprinters on the world stage.
"I'm loving it! I always knew we had it in us, I'm just so thankful that it's finally rising and the athletes are single handedly bringing the sport back," he said.
The rising star of track and field hopes that the sport "would become more competitive in all events" which would result in more support.
With South African athletes on the rise, Van Niekerk revealed his delight in seeing his colleagues thrive.
"It's always amazing seeing my fellow team-mates
doing so well." added Van Niekerk.
Van Niekerk will now turn his attention to a meeting in Luzern, Switzerland on July 14 where he will be participating in the 200m.