Van Niekerk and Manyonga give South African, athlete reason to celebrate in Rio

RECORD BREAKER:  Wayde van Niekerk (extreme right) romps home to victory, in the Men’s 400 metre race in Rio, last Sunday at the ongoing Olympic games. PHOTO: DAILY MAILRECORD BREAKER: Wayde van Niekerk (extreme right) romps home to victory, in the Men’s 400 metre race in Rio, last Sunday at the ongoing Olympic games. PHOTO: DAILY MAIL
RECORD BREAKER:  Wayde van Niekerk (extreme right) romps home to victory, in the Men’s 400 metre race in Rio, last Sunday at the ongoing Olympic games. PHOTO: DAILY MAIL

RECORD BREAKER: Wayde van Niekerk (extreme right) romps home to victory, in the Men’s 400 metre race in Rio, last Sunday at the ongoing Olympic games. PHOTO: DAILY MAIL

MOVE over Oscar Pistorius, there is a new hero in town and his name is Wayde van Niekerk.

The 24- year-old captured the imagination of South Africans and indeed the world with a phenomenal achievement when he broke Michael Johnson’s 17-year-old 400 metres world record to win Olympic Gold at Rio 2016.

The Cape Town born sprinter  finished in 43.03 seconds, 0.15 quicker than the time Johnson clocked in Seville in 1999.

And winning a Gold medal at the Olympics was an absolute accomplishment for van Niekerk, let alone breaking a world record.

He says; “I have dreamed of this since I was a kid. I believed it was possible. I am just glad things went my way. I thank Michael Johnson for setting such a great example for us. I just did my best.”

Johnson himself describes the feat as a “massacre.”

“Van Niekerk is so young, what else can he do? Can he go under 43 seconds? It is something I thought I could do, but never did. Usain Bolt will be retiring soon, this could be the next star,” says Johnson.

King of Sprint Bolt had told van Niekerk about his potential for greatness.

van Niekerk says: “Usain has been such a huge rock, inspiring me as an athlete. He told me back in Jamaica that ‘you will break the world record’. And he came to me after and said ‘I told you I could do it’.”

Just when South Africa had lost a hero in the athletics field following Pistorius’ incarceration for killing his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, the advent of van Niekerk is refreshin and in my opinion will inspire the millions of athletes who had lost hope after the murder trial debacle.

The Capetonian got global rave reviews and kudos from his peers like British sprinter Nigel Levine.

“Can’t believe I just saw a human being run 43.03 seconds for 400m. My man was like ‘nothing can stop me, I’m all the way up,” while fellow British sprinter Richard Kilty says “That was one of the best sporting performances in history @WaydeDreamer new world record 43.03 wow!” gushes Levine.

And the country is certainly not running short of fairy tale heroes in Rio, with Luvo Manyonga conquering his drug addiction and came out as one of the world’s best long-jumpers as he won SA’s sixth medal of the Rio Olympics‚ a silver in the long jump.

Manyonga’s 8.37m personal best seemed set to take the gold medal‚ but then American Jeff Henderson sailed one centimetre further to steal the victory on his final jump.

“I’ve risen from my demons‚” Manyonga told reporters after bagging his silver medal, “They’ve been trying for years to pull me down‚ but now I made it‚ hey.”

It is such performances and positive attitude from athletes that will help shape the minds of youths out there who might think all hope is lost. Manyonga and van Niekerk’s stories are ones for the archives.

In my humble submission, the government must strive to uplift these athletes by making sure they maintain their performances through funding their programmes.

They are role models for society and their achievements help in giving hope to a society that is blighted by drug abuse and other social ills. In short they are a silver lining for the country.

simba.rushawaya@gautengguardian.co.za Twitter @simbarushawaya

 

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