Bolt hails Wayde van Niekerk's gold medal performance

Van Niekerk won Team South Africa’s first gold at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, setting a new world record.

South Africa’s Wayde van Niekerk competes in the Men’s 400m Final during the athletics event at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium in Rio de Janeiro on 14 August, 2016. Picture: AFP.

RIO DE JANEIRO - Athletes have joined the chorus of praise for South Africa's gold Olympic medalist Wayde van Niekerk.

Van Niekerk won Team South Africa's first gold at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, setting a new world record in the 400m, with a time of 43.03 seconds.

Akani Simbine, who finished fifth in the 100m final, is roommates with Van Niekerk and says he was confident he would shine on the biggest stage.

"Wayde is amazing. Spending three months every year with him I always knew that he could be this great and I always knew that he could break the record and I know that you've some a friend is such an amazing feeling."

The world's fastest man, Usain Bolt, trained with Van Nierkerk in the build up to the Games and says he was confident Van Niekerk would break the record today.

"When he got the world record I was like 'wow he did it'. I told him in Jamaica when he was there that my coach said you're probably the only guy right now that can break this 400ms record because he's got speed and he's got strength and you came out and proved me right. I'm really happy for him."

He broke American legend Michael Johnson's 17-year-old record.

Van Niekerk says he's grateful for all the support.

"I had no pressure, that's how amazing each and every one was in South Africa in supporting me. I'd go into any social media, they will say Wayde and gold. I mean my whole country helped me believe in myself and I'm so grateful to each and every one that supported me."

Van Niekerk says having his family with him in Rio has made his Olympic success even more special.

He says his family's presence at the games made all the difference.

"Just having my whole family here meant the world to me tonight. I'm so grateful for this opportunity and that they were here live to witness it today."

The 24-year-old's mother, Odessa Swarts, says she's overwhelmed.

"Well at this moment my heart is still pounding, it's still very unreal. I feels like I'm in still asleep and very soon and when I wake up, I'm going to try to recover from what's happening around me."

Running in lane eight, the 24-year-old world champion got off to a flier and was streaking clear on the back straight but he upped his pace even further in the second half of the race to better American Michael Johnson's 1999 mark of 43.18 seconds.

Van Niekerk looked as stunned as the crowd as he produced the greatest run of all time in the 400m to win gold in Rio.

Out in lane eight he led from start to finish blowing away his main competitors Kirani James and Lashawn Merritt who were hapless bystanders in his wake.

He first found his family in the crowd and embraces before doing a slow circuit of the adoring crowd draped in the South African flag.

The 100m final after that was almost an afterthought as Usain Bolt won his third consecutive title in 9.81 seconds and an excellent run from Akani Simbine who finished fifth.

Johnson, who won back-to-back Olympic titles in the event in 1996 and 2000, was dumbfounded by the quality of Van Niekerk's finish.

"Oh my God! From lane eight, a world record," Johnson said on the BBC. "He took it out so quick. I have never seen anything from 200 to 400 like that."