Make way for SA-made Wayde

09 July 2015 - 02:18 By Archie Henderson

I am not sure we fully appreciate the immensity of the few seconds Wayde van Niekerk spent running around the Stade de France track in Paris on Saturday evening. It was like the Boks beating the All Blacks or Bafana beating Germany.In athletic terms, the 22-year-old Capetonian-turned-Free Stater beat the Olympic champion and the American champion in one fell swoop.Not only that, Van Niekerk achieved it in a time that even by today's standards is outrageous: 43.96 seconds (Michael Johnson's world record being 43.18).Until Isaac Makwala of Botswana trumped him the day after in Slovenia with 43.72, the South African held the Africa record. Van Niekerk's time is still a South African record and he remains the first African to break 44 seconds.In Paris, Van Niekerk defeated Kirani James of Grenada, who will try to add a world title to his Olympic one next month in Beijing, and US champion David Verburg.Both men were comprehensively beaten, the most striking part being how Van Niekerk surged away from the Olympic champion over the last 50m.The 400m, probably more than any other race, puts the runner's body through acute agony when the lactic system is overwhelmed on that final straight."That's when you feel you have no control over your limbs," according to Marcello Fiasconaro, one of the finest 400m and 800m runners of his day.Over the last 100m, he says: "You feel like a wooden puppet." But a puppet in excruciating pain."That's when all the training - and the instinct - kick in," says Fiasconaro."You've done all the vomiting on the training track where your coach has made you run 600m sprints over and over again.""Once it's all over - and you watch it on TV - you look absolutely fine."Unlike Van Niekerk, whose sprinting talents were obvious from the age of 16, Fiasconaro took up athletics for fun between rugby seasons in 1970. He revealed a natural talent for the 400m, then the 800m in which he set a world record of 1min 43.7sec at the age of 23 in 1973 while running for Italy.The world mark was broken three years later by Alberto Juantorena of Cuba, but the Italian record still stands. Two years ago Fiasconaro, now 65, was invited to its 40th anniversary in Milan.He qualified to run for Italy through his father Gregorio, a World War 2 fighter pilot who was a PoW in South Africa before he later met and married Mabel Marie of Pietermaritzburg.Fiasconaro senior became a professor of music at UCT. But what does the old track star think of the new star?"I'm just so glad he won the race," says Fiasconaro. "Often you break a record but you finish fifth or sixth. It's great he won."And sweet, too, was getting an early edge on two men who will be rivals in Beijing next month.

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