South African sprinter Wayde van Niekerk was in Doha, Qatar on Tuesday evening to receive a special Olympic award in recognition of his record-breaking performance at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games in August.
The Association of National Olympic Committees (ANOC) named the 24-year-old the Best Male Athlete of the Games at the ANOC Awards Ceremony, honouring the humble South African youngster after his stunning effort that won him the men’s 400 gold in a world record time of 43.03 seconds.
Van Niekerk finished the memorable race ahead of Kirani James of Grenada (43.76 seconds) and American LaShawn Merritt ( 43.85 seconds), becoming the first man to win Olympic gold from the notoriously unfavourable lane 8.
In capturing the world record time he eclipsed the 17-year record held by American Michael Johnson, as his time of 43.03 seconds in the one-lap race bettered Johnson’s world record of 43.18 seconds and the 1996 Olympic record of 43.49.
Van Niekerk retained a steady pace in the first round and semi-final races before giving his all and storming to victory when it mattered most in the final, securing the first of South Africa’s two gold medals at Rio.
This accolade from the Association of National Olympic Committees comes a few days after Van Niekerk was confirmed as one of the three finalists for the men’s 2016 International Association of Athletics Federations Athlete of the Year award alongside Jamaican Usain Bolt and Mo Farah of Great Britain.
The award winner will be announced on 3 December, and the South African stands a good chance of earning the prestigious annual gong, as he is the only man among the initial nine nominees who set an official global record during the season under review.
The manner in which he blew away the competition and destroyed a 17-year world record on the greatest stage of all means that he deserves to be recognised as the standout male athlete of the year.