You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

Wayde van Niekirk inspired by Pistorius to run

USA TODAY SPORTS USA TODAY SPORTS 15/08/2016 by Martin Rogers, USA TODAY Sports

RIO DE JANEIRO — It takes a special type of inspiration to propel a 400-meter runner to Olympic gold, from the outside lane, in world record time, no less.

Wayde van Niekerk's time of 43.03 seconds broke the Olympic record set by Michael Johnson in Atlanta in 1996 and Johnson’s world mark posted three years later.

Van Niekerk found his inspiration in an unusual form — Oscar Pistorius.

The South African is friends with Pistorius, the athlete known as the Blade Runner, who defied his disability to become a world class performer in the 400.

Pistorius said after being eliminated in the semifinals of the event in London four years ago that he planned to make the final in Rio, on this night. Instead, he is in prison.

The 29-year-old is serving a six-year sentence for the murder of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, on Valentine’s Day in 2013. He is holed up in the notorious Kgosi Mampuru prison in Pretoria, where some of the country’s worst criminals are incarcerated.

Van Niekerk, like many in South Africans, was deeply saddened by the fate of Pistorius, who was one of the most respected and admired characters in the sport before his criminal act. Despite the outrage caused by the murder, van Niekerk said he hopes his friend and former colleague will come back to track once he serves his time.

"He was an inspiration to us all,” van Niekerk said ahead of Sunday’s final. “It's one of the guys who opened the doors for us. What happens in your personal life does not concern me, I can not speak for him." 

South African smashes world record in 400 meters © John David Mercer, USA TODAY Sports South African smashes world record in 400 meters

“But he inspired a generation to run, he gave me a reason to want to run for my country. Whatever happens in his life, I wish him all the best."

The Pistorius story, once so glorious, continues to get uglier. Pistorious was reportedly placed on suicide watch last week after sustaining wrist injuries in jail and being rushed to hospital.

Pistorius was later returned to prison, and claimed three nurses had attempted to kill him. However, South African media reported that he had attempted suicide.

For van Niekerk, is was a night of glory, the kind of glory Pistorius once dreamed of. Now, his name is mentioned only as a cautionary tale.

The United States’ LaShawn Merritt came in third Saturday night. Silver went to defending champion Kirani James of Granada, who has his own history with Pistorius. After Pistorius finished last in their London semifinal the pair swapped race numbers, at James’ suggestion.

More from USA Today Sports

image beaconimage beaconimage beacon