Wayde van Niekerk Becomes 4th Fastest Ever With 400 World Title


Wayde van Niekerk Wins Gold In 43.48, Taken To Hospital After Race

BEIJING - 23-year-old Wayde van Niekerk of South Africa won the men’s 400 World title on Wednesday night in Beijing with a blistering time of 43.48, making him the fourth-fastest man ever in the distance. The time was also the quickest run in the world since 2007.
The 23-year-old van Niekerk now sits behind only Michael Johnson (43.18), Butch Reynolds (43.29), and Jeremy Wariner (43.45) in men’s 400m history.
The South African collapsed to the track immediately after crossing the line, grimacing in pain, and had to be taken off in a stretcher before he could celebrate Africa’s first ever World Championships gold medal in the event.

According to the IAAF, van Niekerk was taken to a Beijing hospital because his vital signs were unstable. He was unable to attend the press conference due to his ailment.
Before van Niekerk left it all on the track, the race in Beijing was expected to be an epic clash of Olympic champions and talented upstarts, of which the South African belonged to the latter. Entering tonight, van Niekerk had never qualified for a World Championship final as he only recently started to make his name known on the international level. 
Standing in front of him were the past two Olympic and World champions, Kirani James and LaShawn Merritt, who many figured would be fighting for gold despite neither man having the fastest time this season. But tonight in Beijing, the South African proved that experience was no match for the fourth-fastest performance in World Championships history. 
A key moment earlier this season that suggested van Niekerk was ready to contend for the world title in Beijing came in July when the 23-year-old became just the fourth man ever to join the sub-20 200/sub-44 400 club all in the span of 10 days, a list that includes Olympic gold medalists Johnson and Merritt, as well as tonight’s fifth-place finisher Isaac Makwala of Botswana. 
Facing the deepest field in 400m history, including four other men with sub-44 PRs entering the race, van Niekerk out-classed them all with a dominant last 200m that the two previous Olympic and World champions were unable to match.  
Remarkably, defending World champion and 2008 Olympic gold medalist LaShawn Merritt ran a PR of 43.65 to finish runner-up in Beijing. The 29-year-old American improved his season’s best by nearly seven-tenths of a second to earn his third career World Championships silver medal. Merritt's previous PR of 43.74 came from the 2013 World Championship final where he won gold.

Afterwards, Merritt was thrilled to once again find his way on the podium despite struggling through the early part of the season with injury.

Watch LaShawn Merritt analyze his 43.65 runner-up finish in Beijing: 

“I hadn’t run well all year, but I’m a championship guy. I love the sport, I love the lights. I knew I had to just come out and execute a race, and that’s what I did. I’ll take the personal best and I’ll take the silver, I’m going to shine it up and add it to my collection,” Merritt said.

And what a collection it is. With tonight's silver, Merritt won his 10th career World Championship medal, tying him with Carl Lewis as the most decorated American man in championship history. 
2011 World champion and 2012 Olympic gold medalist Kirani James was third tonight in 43.78, also a season’s best. The 22-year-old from Grenada won gold in London three years ago as just a 19-year-old, and tonight in Beijing was just happy to be a part of such a special moment. 

“It’s always a pleasure to be a part of such a historic feat,” James said.

Wednesday night’s race in Beijing marked the first time in World Championship history that three men broke 44 in one race. 

UPDATE: van Niekerk announced Thursday morning that he was grateful for the support and healthy after being carried off the track by a medical team after his 400m run.

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