Wayde van Niekerk (Getty Images)
Rio de Janeiro - South African Wayde Van Niekerk smashed Michael Johnson's long-standing 400m record when he stormed to Olympic gold on Sunday.
Van Niekerk, running in the unfavoured lane eight, blasted off the
final corner to time 43.03, 0.15 quicker than Johnson's previous
world best set in Seville in 1999, a record that had taken on
Defending champion Kirani James of Grenada took silver in 43.76, with American LaShawn Merritt bronze (43.85).
"I'm happy to be part of a race that made history. We have put this sport on a pedestal," said James.
Despite Van Niekerk being world champion, his underwhelming heat runs had meant all eyes were on James and Merritt.
The Grenadian set off fast in lane five, Merritt on his coat-tails on the inside with Van Niekerk running solo out wide.
The trio had produced one of the races of the year in the 400m final
at the 2015 world championships in Beijing, all going under 44 seconds
as the South African emerged victorious.
And it was the same again in Rio, Van Niekerk exploding off the last
bend and holding his form through the line in an extraordinary run as
all eight runners finished under 44.61.
"I have never seen anything like that," Johnson told BBC, for whom he works as an analyst.
"It is amazing. That was a massacre by Van Niekerk. This young man
has done something truly special. He could go under 43 seconds - I
tried and failed.
"Being out in lane eight helped him, he was away from James and Merritt. He was running a time-trial.
"That was some style he broke it in," Johnson said of Van Niekerk,
who made sprint history by becoming the first athlete to dip under
benchmark times in the 100m, 200m and 400m.
Having already clocked 19.94 and 43.48 in the 200 and
400m, Van Niekerk timed 9.98 in the 100m in March to set an athletics
Merritt, who was Olympic champion at the Beijing Games in 2008 before
serving a 21-month ban for testing positive for a banned steroid in
2010, hailed Van Niekerk.
"It was a crazy race, a great moment in history. The world record was broken, the best man won," Merritt said.
Britain's Matthew Hudson-Smith finished last in 44.61, saying: "It was just mental, how quick that was, to be part of that.
"I thought I was gaining on them and then he (Van Niekerk) kicked in the back straight and I thought, 'What was that?'."