When South African sprinter Wayde van Niekerk sprinted passed the finish line at the Rio Olympics, it was more than just a win. Seconds ahead of his competitors — a lifetime in sprinting — he set the world record for the 400m sprint.
South Africa, of course, couldn’t be prouder. Instead of collapsing off his feet after his amazing feat, Niekerk dropped to one knee and was decked out with the multi-colored South African flag moments later. Not only did he leave his competitors in the dust at a time of 43:03; he surpassed by .15 seconds a record set 17 years prior by Michael Johnson, considered one of the most untouchable on the track.
According to the New York Times, his lead on the silver and bronze sprinters was particularly impressive. “I was running blind all the way,” van Niekerk reportedly said. “I thought someone was going to catch me — what’s going on, what’s going on, and it gave me motivation to keep on pushing.”
On September 7, van Niekerk returned to South Africa and was met with a hero’s welcome: ecstatic crowds and proud sponsors graced him with their presence, and gifts, too. Audi surprised him at the airport with an Audi RS3 Sportback car and made an Audi Sport Ambassador. The model is the fastest and most powerful yet, making it particularly well suited for the speedy South African.
Van Niekerk was also presented with an R1 million check by sponsor T-Systems, who agreed to gift this amount should he break the record.
The Olympic record isn’t the only record the young champion holds: he is the first person in history to run the 100m in less than 10 seconds, 200m in 20 seconds, and 400m in less than 44.
Upon his return to South America, the 24-year-old was overwhelmed, not just by the support, but gratitude — and not just for the car. He dedicated his achievements to his 74-year-old trainer Anna Botha for shaping him into a world-class athlete. “I literally leave all my trust in her hands‚” he said. “I give her all the credit for all the sacrifices.”
Van Niekerk has said that his motivation comes from the kids who, he hopes, can look up to him. “I started off here as well looking up to sports star,” he said. “Everyone has been blessed with talent and with opportunity; they have to take it.”
Judging by his 103K following on Instagram, he’s already become that role model. And though he’s accomplished so much already, this will be far from his last finish line. Welcome home, Wayde, and thanks for doing South Africa proud!