Monaco - His 400m run at Rio 2016 was possibly the story of the Olympic Games, but South Africa’s Wayde van Niekerk could not finish ahead of Nico Rosberg at the Laureus World Sports Awards on Tuesday night.
After smashing Michael Johnson’s 17-year-old 400m world record in Rio last year, Van Niekerk (24) was nominated in the ‘Breakthrough of the Year’ category at this year’s awards ceremony in Monaco.
But, to the disappointment of South Africans on social media, that honour was given to Formula One champion Nico Rosberg (31), who won his maiden world title in 2016 ahead of fancied Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton.
Bolt, who himself was named ‘Sportsman of the Year’ for his record-levelling fourth Laureus award, was as stunned as anyone after watching Van Niekerk’s run live at the Olympic Stadium in August last year.
“If I’m honest, I would have definitely given it to him (Van Niekerk),” Bolt said of the category when asked by Sport24.
“I never thought I would see Michael Johnson’s record broken. I’ve seen many athletes try and they’ve come way short.
“I remember the first time I saw him (Van Niekerk) run and afterwards and my coach (Glen Mills) sat me down and said ‘there are only two people who can break this 400m world record’.
“I said ‘who is that?’ and he said ‘one is you, and one is Wayde van Niekerk.’
“He said it to me earlier when we had the discussion about the 400m. He said ‘you have to have the speed. If you don’t have speed, you can’t break Michael Johnson’s world record’.
“Wayde has the speed and the strength and determination.”
Van Niekerk had spent a brief spell training with Bolt in Jamaica in the build-up to Rio, and the soon-to-be retired Olympic champion says he saw something special in the young South African during that time.
“Just by training with him earlier in the year you can tell that he really works hard. For me it was just brilliant to have seen him break the world record and I was really happy for him,” said Bolt.
Van Niekerk is now seriously considering adding the 200m to his repertoire, and while he is still figuring that all out, Bolt has no doubts that he could make the switch.
“I know that he’s going to run a good 200m because he’s very strong and I can tell that he’s fast by the 100m that he’s run,” he said.