We'll always have Paris.Wayde van Niekerk dips on the line in the Men's 400m. Photo: iaaf.org

PARIS – With the IAAF Diamond League heading to Paris on Saturday, memories of Wayde van Niekerk will come flooding back despite him being out of action and still recovering from the serious injury he sustained playing touch rugby last year.

Before the meeting in Paris in July 2015, athletics didn’t know all that much about Van Niekerk although he was unbeaten in the season coming into that meeting. 

The previous year he had bettered 45 seconds in just three of his 19 races, but that would soon become the new normal for the South African.

On a sweltering night in Paris, the then 22-year-old ripped around the track in the Stade de France to shock Olympic champion Kirani James, Van Niekerk finishing in an African 400m record of 43.96. 

He was an exhausted heap of a man afterwards, laying on the ground in the mixed zone and unable to stand for several minutes.

But that would be just the first of several superhuman efforts by van Niekerk in the years that followed. 

He first took the world title in Beijing in 43.48 and then Olympic gold in Rio the following year in a world record of 43.03. But Paris will be remembered as his breakout moment, the night a sprint star was born.

Wayde van Niekerk plays in the tag rugby match in October 2017 where he sustained the injury that will have him out of action for several months. Photo: Ryan Wilkisky/BackpagePix

Another African triumph also occurred in 2015 in Paris. 

The 3 000m steeplechase is well known for its captivating chaos, and in 2015 the Parisian crowd were treated to a terrific display of theatrics in the Stade de France.

Evan Jager went into the race with the North American record on his mind along with the illustrious eight-minute barrier. 

With one lap to run, all was going according to plan, Jager turning the screw out front and putting daylight between himself and Kenyan rival Jairus Birech, much to the delight of the crowd which screamed its support for him in his bid to break the Kenyan dominance.

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But approaching the last barrier fatigue took hold of Jager, and he clipped it slightly with his toe, stumbled on landing and then crashed to the track. 

Birech blew straight by to win in 7:58.83, with Jager getting back to his feet to finish second in 8:00.45, a North American record.

“I feel sorry for Jager,” said Birech afterwards. “He was stronger than me. I was beaten.”

African News Agency (ANA)

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