The former British specialist believes a turning point has been reached for the 400m after Van Niekerk’s 43.03 world record
Olympic medallist and former world indoor 400m champion Jamie Baulch believes that Wayde van Niekerk’s world record-breaking run is better than the 100m and 200m records of Usain Bolt.
The South African world champion’s Rio victory was scarcely believable as he left two Olympic champions in Kirani James and LaShawn Merritt scrambling for silver back on the horizon while he flew through the line in 43.03 to wipe the floor with Michael Johnson’s record which had stood unopposed for 17 years.
Baulch understands better than most the scale of Van Niekerk’s achievement, having been on the receiving end of Johnson’s mind-blowing 43.18 in the 1999 World Championships final in Seville.
“I was as shocked and surprised as everyone. I thought that record of Michael’s was going to stand even longer,” said the double Olympian. “I personally think it’s better than Usain Bolt’s 100 and 200m records. I think to run 43.03 is just astonishing.”
Baulch lays the humbling facts of the 24-year-old new world record-holder’s race bare. The Briton’s personal bests for each of the shorter sprints – 10.51 (100m) and 20.81 (200m) – are the kind of times Van Niekerk lays down over one lap of the track for splits – 10.7 for the opening 100 metres and 20.5 through 200 in the Olympic final.
“When you get to the final you’re all there or thereabouts as you’ve made finals and competed on that stage with one another before. But the way [Johnson] tore past me was a bit like I was walking. Van Niekerk’s performance was unbelievable. Everyone is talking about that he’s run sub-10, sub-20 and sub-44. But the guy has now almost run sub-43,” added Baulch.
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“He’s going through the 200 faster than my ability could cope with. What he’s done is extraordinary … He’s got so much of a buffer, just like Michael Johnson had with his 19.32 200m PB. When he’s going through in 20.5, which is ridiculously quick, it’s a stroll in the park for him.”
Until Van Niekerk no athlete had made a meaningful challenge to the four-time Olympic champion’s best, with Jeremy Wariner having only briefly and faintly knocked on the door nine years ago with a 43.45 as the closest.
With the four-time Olympic champion’s record now a thing of the past, and the manner in which it was demolished by Van Niekerk, the 1997 4x400m world champion believes a watershed moment for the event has once again been reached.
“It almost feels like Roger Bannister ran the four-minute mile,” he said. “Up until that race some people believed you could only reach a certain level over the 400m and he’s now just annihilated everyone’s mind-set. All athletes and coaches this winter will be thinking how to beat this guy. They’ve got to get quicker and just get so much faster.”