—by Red Shannon
On Saturday, Wayde van Niekerk delivered a personal Piece de Resistance to one of athletics’ most respected, yet underrated accomplishments. And hardly anyone noticed.
It was overshadowed in the U.S. media by concurrent indoor track and field championship meets at both the professional and collegiate levels.
It did not come close to attaining the prestige of an Olympic or World Championship gold medal.
Heck, by today’s elite sprint standards and given the generous tailwind (1.5 m/s) and altitude factor, it would barely register on a global championship scale.
Even so, by winning the 100m final of the Free State Championships in Bloemfontein with a time of 9.98 seconds, the reigning South African 400m world champion became the only man in history to have run a sub-10 second 100m, a sub-20 200m and a sub-44 400m.
And this is what makes it a big deal:
It’s a feat the great Michael Johnson or Usain Bolt were never able to achieve. Johnson never broke 10 (10.09) and Bolt has yet to eclipse 45 (45.28). In fact, Tyson Gay was the only previous member of the now obsolete sub-10, sub-20, sub-45 club.
That’s some pretty good company to be stepping over as van Niekerk climbs into exclusive territory. And it deserves more than an asterisk in the record books of track and field.
Consider this: It can be argued that any one of Niekerk’s best marks (9.98, 19.94, 43.48) could draw him a lane in most major world-class track meets. This is incredible versatility and range for a quarter-mile specialist.
The same argument could be applied to Gay’s triple (9.69, 19.58, 44.89)—a short sprinter who could competitively cover a world-class one-lapper, if he chose to make that his focus.
Regrettably, we’ll probably never know what a now aging Bolt could have accomplished in a full lap had he determined to exploit that distance. His notorious weakness (first 10 meters) would have been minimized while his long stride and physique would have been maximized.
Which makes Niekerk’s accomplishment all the more noteworthy. No one owns the totality of the 400 meter track in the way he alone does.
Not only is he knocking on the door of Johnson’s 400m world record (43.18), his youth only promises room for improvement in the other two distances.
What a shame that his recent trifecta will undoubtedly top out at the level of “trivia”, and no more!
There are other examples of great accomplishments being relegated to trivia status, mostly through improvements/modifications to implements.
For example, some argue that the pole vault records established before the advent of the flexible fiberglass pole should have their own place of honor. And javelin records, before the old 700g spear was weighted (800g) and reconfigured.
Virtually all the old track records based on yards (not meters) are gathering dust in some museum or trophy case.
Can you name some others?