ELITE speedster Wayde van Niekerk has once again done the nation proud after being named Best Male Athlete of the Rio 2016 Olympics.
“Wow, what an honour being awarded with this massive achievement,” Van Niekerk tweeted after he accepted his trophy at a ceremony in Doha, Qatar.
The Olympic champion, the first sprinter to win a gold medal in sprint for South Africa since 1920, made history when he took 0.15 seconds off the 400m world record set by American Michael Johnson in 1999.
The Cape Town-born sprinter held off defending champion Kirani James of Grenada, who took second place, by 0.73 seconds for a comfortable victory.
Winners in other categories include Best Female Athlete, Monica Puig (Tennis), from Puerto Rico, and Anoc Award for Most Inspirational Performance: Rafaela Lopes Silva, from Brazil.
Van Niekerk was travelling back to the country yesterday and used social media to thank all his supporters.
The athlete’s mother, Odessa Swarts, said she was exceptionally proud of her son because he worked hard over the last four years to win at the Olympics.
“When he crossed the finish line in record-breaking time, the stadium just lit up,” Swarts said.
She said her son’s win was so close to World Prematurity Day today, she wanted parents of premature babies to be inspired by his award. Van Niekerk was born prematurely.
Pre-term birth is the leading cause of death of newborn babies, and the No 2 cause of child mortality globally.
Pre-term babies are at increased risk of illness, disability and death, and 15 million babies are born too soon every year, or before 37 completed weeks of gestation; and 1.1 million pre-term babies die every year.
“I want this to bring hope to mommies of preemie babies,” Swarts said. Athletics South Africa president Aleck Skhosana said Van Niekerk’s achievements and performance will inspire other athletes and awake Africa to take its rightful place as the leading continent in the world of athletes. “This award is a tremendous honour for Wayde, which once again shows that he has established his place among the top athletes in the world.
“We are proud of Wayde for receiving this accolade, and we congratulate him and his coach Anna Botha for receiving this worthy recognition for all his hard work,” Skhosana said.
Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula congratulated Van Niekerk on social media.
The awards celebrated and honoured the best sporting achievements from the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. Association of National Olympic Committees (Anoc) president Sheikh Ahmad al-Fahad al-Sabah said: “The Rio 2016 Olympic Games produced many memorable sporting memories created by inspirational athletes from around the world.
“The athletes and their respective NOCs are at the very heart of every Olympic Games. It is their hard work and commitment that contributes to the success of the Games, and it is important these achievements are recognised and honoured.”
Van Niekerk is also in line for the most prestigious accolade in global athletics – the 2016 IAAF Athlete of the Year. He is up against Usain Bolt and Mo Farah in his category.