Wayde van Niekerk of South Africa celebrates after winning the men's 400m final of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. EPA/ANTONIO LACERDA

Cape Town - Olympic gold medallist and South African sprint sensation Wayde van Niekerk is the 2016 South African of the Year.

The award was decided by the public via a Twitter poll that ran for a week and attracted over 40 000 voters.

South Africans had the option of voting for music producer Black Coffee, Olympic 800m champion Caster Semenya, opera star Pretty Yende and Van Niekerk.

Black Coffee was nominated for becoming the first South African to win a BET Award. In June the artist was the recipient of the Best International Act - Africa category. Semenya was nominated for her gold medal success in Rio de Janeiro, while soprano singer Yende, who has won critical acclaim in the opera houses of Vienna, Moscow, Milan and New York, recently released her first solo album.

In the end, Van Niekerk’s superb run from lane eight in the Olympic 400m final sealed the deal.

Not only did he claim South Africa’s first gold medal at the Rio Games (Semenya claimed the second), but his time of 43.03 seconds also broke the world record set in 1999.

It’s been an outstanding two years for the popular yet humble Olympian. In 2015 he announced himself on the world stage by winning gold in the 400m at the World Championships in Beijing.

Earlier this year he broke the 10-second barrier in the 100m, which made him the first person to break 10 seconds for 100m, 20 seconds for 200m and 44 seconds for 400m.

His performance in Rio then catapulted Van Niekerk to superstardom.

“The South African of the Year is someone who, with a phenomenal achievement, made you extremely proud to be South African,” said Jan Scannell, the man behind the National Braai Day initiative and the South African of the Year awards.

“Our intention is to highlight exceptional performances by South Africans that bring the country to a standstill and to acknowledge the special moments where the hearts of the nation beat together, united in pride. All four candidates are truly exceptional South Africans. Their achievements should make us all feel proud to be South African.

“I think Wayde’s performance was just such a blockbuster moment that it made not only our country sit up and take notice, but also the rest of the world.”

The “South African of the Year” is a registered trademark, of which the National Braai Day initiative is the legal custodian. It is run as a non-profit project with the sole purpose of enhancing Heritage Day as South Africa’s national day of celebration.

Weekend Argus