It was the quickest time in which a human has hurtled himself around the entire circumference of an athletics track, and the incredible Wayde van Niekerk was humble in victory, as always.
Michael Johnson’s 17-year-old world record had finally been eclipsed and Van Niekerk had done it from lane eight. That too was a record. No man has won the Olympic 400m from the outside lane.
It took just 43.03 seconds for the 24-year-old to win SA’s first gold in Rio and become only the second South African to break an athletics world record at the Olympic Games. The last time was in 1928, when George Weightman-Smith set the 110m world mark in Amsterdam.
The last time a non-US athlete broke the men’s 400m world record was in 1950, and the last time a South African held an athletics world record was in 1975.
Adding another one to the list, the last South African Olympic champion in the 400m was Bevill Rudd 96 years ago.
The numbers and statistics go on but all of that matters little to the man who simply “came here to do my best”.
That best was good enough to beat the defending Olympic champion, Kirani James, into second place in 43.76 with 2008 champion LaShawn Merritt coming in third in 43.85.
The Granadian and American had also run great times but they were nowhere close to catching Van Niekerk, who had powered through the 300m mark in 31 seconds, signalling that the world record was very much under threat.
“He was someone I was trying to gauge off of but he just wouldn’t slow down,” said an impressed James afterwards. “That’s what happens in the 400 – in the last 100 usually guys slow down a bit but he just kept going. And when you keep going like that obviously a world record is going to fall.”
Still stunned by his own achievement, the man who spent the afternoon watching his beloved Liverpool beating Arsenal 4-3, said: “I still can’t think what happened in my race. I literally need to go back and watch the race before I can comment on it. At the moment I’m just very grateful for everything that’s happened tonight.
Being drawn in lane eight, Van Niekerk could not see what his rivals were doing behind him and simply strode ahead, not knowing if there was anyone close to catch him on the line.
“As I got to the finish line I was expecting one of them to catch me and as I crossed the finish line I looked left and I saw – but there’s no-one.
“I’m still a bit amazed. I still have to pinch myself at what happened,” he said.
As for the minor matter of the earlier football match, Van Niekerk reckoned: “Yes, I watched the Liverpool match before. I was losing my mind because it was quite a tight match. I was so excited that we got the win over Arsenal. And my brother’s an Arsenal fan. Now I’ve got the world record and Liverpool beat Arsenal. I’ve got a lot to brag about tonight.”
Meanwhile, there was some talk that Usain Bolt’s third consecutive gold in the 100m in the race after Van Niekerk’s had slightly overshadowed the South African’s incredible performance.
But even the great man himself was one of the first to congratulate him afterwards, embracing him on the track.
Speaking at a press conference later, Bolt said: “It was brilliant. From lane eight, the way he runs, I knew he was going to be brilliant.
“When he was training in Jamaica my coach said he’s probably the only guy in the world right now who can break this 400m world record. He’s got speed and strength and he came out here and proved him right.
“I’m very happy for him. I’m really proud of him. He did extremely well.”
High praise indeed.