Pretoria – Sports and Recreation Minister Fikile Mbalula has congratulated track athlete Wayde van Niekerk, on his gold medal win, at the Rio Olympics, currently underway in Brazil.
“This is a very special moment in the history of our track and field athletics, and remains a proud moment for our South African Team. Wayde’s performance has put South Africa on the global map by not just bringing us gold but also breaking and setting an extraordinary record finish,” said Minister Mbalula.
Van Niekerk broke Michael Johnson’s world record of 43.18sec, which had stood since 1999.
“I have been privileged to watch him and other South African athletes in action at the Olympics having visited their Olympic Athletes’ Village to interact and send messages of support from South Africa,” said the Minister.
The Minister said he is pleased that the South African government and its people, through the Department of Sport and Recreation South Africa, have been able to celebrate Wayde.
“His performance has been sensational and we are proud of our first gold medal and I am confident this has unleashed a string of more medals to come. Let me also congratulate Akani Simbini for holding his own by finishing fifth in the men’s 100m sprint behind Usain Bolt. We are very proud of our youngsters and convinced with time and hard work, the world will soon be eating from the palms of his hands,” said Minister Mbalula.
Van Niekerk won the South African Sportsman of the Year and the People’s Choice Awards at the South African Sport Awards of 2015.
Free State MEC for Sport, Arts, Culture and Recreation NS Leeto also congratulated the 24-year-old athlete, saying the province is immensely proud of him.
“He is a testament to what dedication and hard work can achieve, and it is an honour to associate with a world champion as a province,” she said.
Initially, Van Niekerk looked as though he was running too fast through the first 200m, and the expectation was that Kirani James, the defending champion from Grenada, and LaShawn Merritt of the United States would haul Van Niekerk in through the bends.
“The South African in fact went faster in the second half of the race, sling-shooting into the home straight. His winning margin against one of the fastest 400m fields ever assembled is what makes this win even more special. It was, as Michael Johnson himself said on television commentary, ‘a massacre’,” said MEC Leeto.
The provincial department supported Van Niekerk through the Free State Sport Science Institute, where Van Niekerk went through an extensive conditioning and sport science programme.
Another legend of the track, Usain Bolt, made a special plea to go all the way into the stands after winning his own race to go and congratulate Van Niekerk.
“The Free State Department of Sport, Arts, Culture and Recreation is proud of this achievement, as it puts the province on the map,” said MEC Leeto.
The athlete earned a silver medal at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in 2014.