Getting placed in lane 8 for a major track and field race generally means that you’ll at best struggle to win a medal.
In the case of South Africa’s Wayde Van Niekerk, running out of lane 8 for the final of the men’s 400 did nothing to keep him from either taking gold or shattering Michael Johnson’s world and Olympic records.
Van Niekerk looked comfortable throughout the race, winning in an astonishing time of 43.03 seconds, breaking the Olympic record (43.49) by more than four tenths of a second and the world record (43.18) by 15 one-hundredths of a second. Taking silver was Greneda’s Kirani James, who took gold in the 400 four years ago, with American LaShawn Merritt taking bronze.
Both James (43.76 seconds) and Merritt (43.85) established new season bests in the 400, but neither had what it took to keep up with Van Niekerk. Running from lanes six and five, respectively, James and Merritt appeared to be headed towards a duel for goal as they rounded the final turn. But on the outside Van Niekerk maintained his pace, pulling away down the final straightaway and seemingly easing up through the finish line.
That’s how comfortable Van Niekerk was Sunday night, and as a result he is South Africa’s first Olympic champion in the 400 and a world record holder as well.