Johannesburg – Wayde van Niekerk admitted he was stunned by his own performance after he smashed the 15-year-old South African record in the men's 400m sprint in New York on Saturday evening.
Van Niekerk finished second behind world champion LaShawn Merritt of the United States in the one-lap event at the sixth leg of the Diamond League series, crossing the line in 44.38 seconds.
“I wish I had all my supporters me with me right now, to thank each and every one of them,” he said after the race.
The 21-year-old prodigy, running in lane eight, went out hard from the start and clung to Merritt down the home straight to break the national mark of 44.59 jointly held by Arnaud Malherbe and Hendrik Mokganyetsi.
At one point it seemed Van Niekerk might close Merritt down before the line, but the former Olympic gold medallist held on to secure victory in 44.19, setting a new meeting record.
The American star congratulated the young South African after the race for his gutsy effort.
“I didn't expect to be so close to him (Merritt) over the last 100m,” Van Niekerk said.
“It really started feeling overwhelming and I used him to pull me through.”
Van Niekerk said he had as many as seven meetings on his provisional schedule ahead of the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow next month, though his entry into some events had not yet been finalised.
While he clocked a personal best of 20.21 seconds in the 200m sprint in Pretoria in April, just 0.10 outside Morne Nagel's 12-year-old SA record, Van Niekerk confirmed he would not compete in the half-lap event at the Games.
“I'm focussing on the 400m in Glasgow but I'm hoping to do a couple of 200m races in Europe (before the Games),” he said.
Van Niekerk expected to compete in the 200m event at a permit meeting in Stockholm on June 26, and he hoped to turn out again over a full lap at the Diamond League meeting in Lausanne on July 3.
Meanwhile, the five-member SA contingent put up a strong fight against some of he world's top athletes in New York, producing the country's best performance this year in the top-flight international track and field campaign.
Cornel Fredericks and LJ van Zyl, starting in lanes one and two respectively, were both in contention coming off the final bend in the men's 400m hurdles.
Fredericks held on for third place in 48.58, smashing his season's best by 0.63 seconds, while Van Zyl faded to fifth position in 49.37.
Diamond League debutant Rushwaal Samaai snatched a surprise third place in the men's long jump with a best leap of 8.00m, just 13cm short of his career record.
Victor Hogan also held his own against a quality line-up in the men's discus throw, securing fifth place with a season's best heave of 63.47m. – Sapa