10 reasons Wayde van Niekerk is tops

It was no surprise when Wayde van Niekerk made a clean sweep at the SA Sports Awards. Daniel Mothowagae justifies the choice.

1. World’s number 1

Van Niekerk finished the year not only as the world champion but ranked at number one in the 400m globally.

2. Fastest times this year

The 23-year-old ran the five fastest times in the 400m top-10 segment in the world this year (see box).

3. Hat-trick and counting

His clean sweep at the SA Sports Awards last Sunday came exactly a month after Van Niekerk was named the Kovsies (University of the Free State) Sportsman of the Year for a third year running.

Two days after he scooped the SA Sports Star, Sportsman and People’s Choice awards, he also received the SAB Sports Media Personality of the Year award, on Tuesday.

4. Firsts by a South African

His 19.94 seconds in a 200m race in Zurich, Switzerland, in July made him Mzansi’s first athlete to breach the 20-second time.

This feat came two weeks after Van Niekerk made history as the first African to run a sub-44-second time in the 400m final in Paris, France.

His world championship gold in Beijing, China, was the first SA sprint medal in almost a century.

5. Record breaker

He ran five record times this year – over the 200m, 300m and 400m (three times).

6. All-time best

In lifting the 400m world title in August, Van Niekerk clocked the sixth-fastest 400m time of all time. The time is 0.3 seconds off the 43.24-second world record set by US legend Michael Johnson in 1999.

7. Seven of the best

He enjoyed an unbeaten run in seven out of eight international races. He came third behind winner Kirani James (Grenada) and runner-up LaShawn Merritt (US) at the Zurich, Switzerland, Diamond race seven days after the South African beat the two to the global championships gold medal in Beijing.

8. Rare feat

With his 200m personal best of 19.94 seconds, Van Niekerk is ranked alongside Johnson, Merritt and Botswana’s Isaac Makwala as the only athletes to have gone under 20 seconds in the 200m and 44 seconds in the 400m.

By smashing the 29-year-old African record over the rarely run 300m distance in 31.63 seconds at a Diamond League meeting in Birmingham, UK, in June, Van Niekerk shaved more than half a second off the previous SA record of 32.15 set by Morné Nagel in December 2006.

9. Beating the cream of the crop

This season, the Kovsies marketing student defeated top-rated 400m runners – reigning Olympic and former world champion James, Merritt (2008 Olympic and 2009 world champ) and Makwala (reigning African champion).

10. Not the one to blow his own horn

Some of Van Niekerk’s carefully selected comments:

After winning three SA Sports awards: “It was really just an honour to be able to stand on the podium and say I won a gold medal for South Africa, and here I get three awards.”

After beating Olympic champion James: “...was definitely a game-changer, and now I know I need to step up my game and try to compete at a more consistent level and, through that consistency, I believe the results will follow.”

After winning the 400m gold medal in Beijing: “Just being in the final was a blessing and God gave me the big prize today.”

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