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South Africa’s Wayde van Niekerk sets world record, wins gold in men’s 400 meters
South Africa’s Wayde van Niekerk, left, crushes the competition. (REUTERS/Pawel Kopczynski)

Wayde van Niekerk more than proved his surprising victory in the 400 meters at the 2015 world championships was no fluke. The South African sprinter not only won a gold medal in Rio, easily defeating a decorated field, he obliterated a 17-year-old world record.

The 24-year-old van Niekerk ran the 400 meters in a blistering 43.03, with Grenada’s Kirani James, the 2012 Olympic champion, coming in second at 43.76, and LaShawn Merritt of the U.S., the 2008 gold medalist, third at 43.85. The previous world record, 43.18, had been set in 1999 by American Michael Johnson, a two-time gold medalist.

Making van Niekerk’s accomplishment more remarkable was that he began the race from Lane 8, which starts the furthest up the track and meant that he couldn’t see his competitors in the early going. In last year’s world championships, van Niekerk, Merritt and James became the first trio to run 400 meters in under 44 seconds in the same race.

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