“Jesus did it,” says South African 400 metre victor
South African Men's 400m Olympic gold medallist sprinter Wayde van Niekerk broke a 17-year-old world record, but if you ask him: "Jesus did it".
The 24-year-old, who friends say is humble, friendly, and decent, won despite qualifying fifth-fastest for the final and being relegated to the dreaded outside lane, where he couldn't see any of the other runners.
Being in lane eight may actually have helped him though, as he told reporters in Rio he was convinced someone would chase him down.
"I thought someone was going to catch me, because I felt very alone and I was like, 'What's going on?'
"It gave me so much motivation to keep on pushing, and ... I just dove for the finish line."
Wayde won convincingly in the time of 43.03 seconds, breaking Michael Johnson's record, and gaining the high praise – and embrace – of Jamaican sprinting legend Usain Bolt.
"The only thing I can do now is to give God praise," said Wayde moments after millions around the world watched as he bowed in prayer after the race.
"I asked the Lord to carry me through the race and I'm really, really blessed and grateful for this opportunity," said the University of the Free State student who commentators – including Johnson – immediately began speculating could become the next big athletics star when Bolt retires.
"I went on my knees each and every day and I told the Lord to take care of me every step of the way – I even wrote it down on my spikes," said Wayde in a track-side television interview with BBC Sport in which he held up his running shoes to show the words "Jesus I am all yours, use me".
Speaking of the importance of his faith, he said he values it because God "is the one who blessed me with talent".
He previously told sports media organisation Passion for Sport that "everything that comes my way I thank the Lord." He said: "I leave every race and every step I take in His hands. I trust Him in every movement I do."
After the race he tweeted his thanks with the words "God is power" and "Jesus did it" in an attached graphic.
Wayde was the flag bearer for South Africa at the Games' opening ceremony, and flew 10 members of his family to Rio to watch him compete, including his girlfriend Chesney Campbell, 24, his grandparents and parents.
Bolt, who is also a vocal Jesus-follower, congratulated Wayde track-side and 20 minutes later went on to make history as he won his third, successive 100m Olympic title. The two did not compete against each other at Rio as Wayde, despite being the South African champion at 200m, elected not to enter that race in his first Olympics.
"My favourite event is the 200m, to be honest with you," Wayde told Sports Illustrated, when asked if he'd like to take on Bolt.
"I'd love to race one day, when I'm big. These are guys that inspire me, that keep me competing; the same like with the guys in the 400m. I'd even love to run 100m with the big dogs one of these days."
Wayde's personal best in the 100m is 9.98 seconds, making him the first man in history to run under 10 seconds for the 100m race, under 20 seconds for the 200m race and under 44 seconds for the 400m race.
Wayde's 74-year-old coach, Anna Botha, was exuberant in her reaction to his victory but was unable to get onto the track to congratulate him, as security officials did not believe the white haired great-grandmother was who she claimed! Botha, who has been coaching athletics since 1960 has been working with Wayde for three years.
Of the comparison to Bolt, Wayde said: "I am grateful and blessed *to be surrounded by such great sports people of my generation and I am just grateful to be where I am today."•