At the Rio Olympics in August, Wayde van Niekerk set a new World Record in the 400m as he added the Olympic title to the World Champs title he won last year, giving South Africa it’s first official World Record in Track and Field in just over 40 years, but building on a rich history of our athletes setting world marks. – BY SEAN FALCONER & RIËL HAUMANN
When Wayde van Niekerk crossed the line in the 400m final in Rio in a time of 43.03, he finally beat the 17-year-old World Record of 43.18 set by American Michael Johnson in the 1999 World Champs in Seville, Spain. And he did it in some style, too! The way he pulled clear of the rest of the field in the home straight absolutely took the breath away – so much so that even the great Usain Bolt made a point of heading straight up into the stands after his 100m final win to congratulate Wayde.
The new World Record makes Wayde the 13th South African (if you count relay teams as one) to set a World Record in track and field, and his is the 20th World Record by a South African or South African team. This list only counts the standard distances recognised by the IAAF, or that were recognised in the past, so some seldom-run events do not appear on this list, like the 200m hurdles, where SA’s LJ van Zyl is currently the co-holder of the record.
Track Star through the Ages
South Africa has a proud history of producing World Record performances, but Wayde’s World Record in Rio is the first for SA in track and field since John van Reenen set the world mark for Discus in 1975. The ensuing years of sporting isolation due to the country’s Apartheid policies meant that many potential world-beaters did not get to compete on the world stage, and it also meant that one World Record run in SA was never ratified by the IAAF. That non-record belonged to Zola Budd.
In January 1984, aged just 17 and running barefoot, the waif-like Zola made world headlines as she shattered the women’s 5000m World Record, clocking 15:01.83 to take nearly seven seconds off American Mary Decker’s 1982 mark of 15:08.25. Unfortunately, the IAAF did not recognise the time, and it remains left out of official lists, or added as a footnote. Norway’s Ingrid Kristiansen broke that mark in June 1984 with her 14:58.87, but Zola took the record back in August 1985 with a 14:48.07 – but that record also did not come to South Africa, as she was then (temporarily) running for Great Britain.
Road and Ultra Records
On the road, South Africans have also set a number of World Records over the years, with our star performer being Elana Meyer, who began her remarkable run of six World Records with the first of four women’s half marathon world marks. Interestingly, some World Records recognised by the IAAF are intermediate distances recorded within a longer race, like Thompson Magawana and Frith van der Merwe’s times for 30 miles and 50km recorded during the 56km Two Oceans ultra-marathon.
However, a number of other world best times set by South Africans cannot be included in the list of World Records due to the fact that they were run on point-to-point courses, which are not recognised by the IAAF for record purposes. As a result, a number of times set by Wally Hayward, Jackie Mekler and others are not included, nor is the record for 50 miles set by Bruce Fordyce in the London to Brighton race. These performances are classified as World Bests instead of World Records. On the other hand, Wally and Jackie both appear in the list of World Records for ultra distances run on the track. These two legends – both five-time Comrades Marathon winners – set a number of world marks over distances such as 50 miles, 100km and 100 miles, and further added to the rich history of SA’s athletic World Records.
SOUTH AFRICA'S WORLD RECORD SETTERS
Here, in chronological order, is the full list of SA’s athletic World Records. The total is 49, by 24 athletes or teams (or 27 athletes, if you count all relay team members). Only three track athletes set more than two World Records – Gert Potgieter, Barbara Burke and Marjorie Clark, with three each – whereas counting all records, Elana set six records, Wally five and Jackie four.
TRACK & FIELD
120y H 15.0* Vincent Duncker (Pietermaritzburg, 17 April 1909)
110m H 14.8* George Weightman-Smith (Amsterdam, 31 July 1928)
110m H 14.6 George Weightman-Smith (Amsterdam, 31 July 1928)
100y 9.4 Danie Joubert (Grahamstown, 16 May 1931)
440y H 50.7 Gert Potgieter (Queenstown, 20 April 1957)
440y H 49.7 Gert Potgieter (Cardiff, 22 July 1958)
440y H 49.3 Gert Potgieter (Bloemfontein, 16 April 1960)
100m 10.0 Paul Nash (Krugersdorp, 2 April 1968)
1000m 2:16.0 Danie Malan (Munich, 24 June 1973)
Discus 68.48m John van Reenen (Stellenbosch, 14 March 1975)
400m 43.03 Wayde van Niekerk (Rio de Janeiro, 14 August 2016)
80m H 12.2* Marjorie Clark (Pietermaritzburg, 24 May 1930)
80m H 12.0 Marjorie Clark (Pietermaritzburg, 2 April 1931)
80m H 11.8 Marjorie Clark (Pietermaritzburg, 2 April 1931)
100y 11.0 Barbara Burke (Pretoria, 20 April 1935)
220y 24.8 Barbara Burke (Pretoria, 22 April 1935)
80m H 11.6 Barbara Burke (Berlin, 1 August 1937)
High Jump 1.66m Esther van Heerden (Stellenbosch, 29 March 1941)
4 x 110y 47.3 SA team** (Kimberley, 10 April 1950)
4 x 110y 46.9 SA team** (Pretoria, 26 March 1951)
* World Record equalled.
** The members of both teams were the same: Florence Willis, Sally Black, Edna Maskell and Daphne Robb-Hasenjager.
ROAD: STANDARD DISTANCES
10km 27:59 Matthews Motshwarateu (Purchase, 4 October 1980)
21.1km 67:59 Elana Meyer (East London, 18 May 1991)
15km 46:57 Elana Meyer (Cape Town, 2 November 1991)
5km 15:10 Elana Meyer (Providence, 16 October 1994)
21.1km 67:36 Elana Meyer (Kyoto, 9 March 1997)
21.1km 67:29 Elana Meyer (Kyoto, 8 March 1998)
21.1km 66:44 Elana Meyer (Tokyo, 15 January 1999)
ROAD: ULTRA DISTANCES
30 miles 2:37:31 Thompson Magawana (Cape Town, 12 April 1988)
50km 2:43:38 Thompson Magawana (Cape Town, 12 April 1988)
100km 6:25:07 Bruce Fordyce (Stellenbosch, 4 February 1989)
30 miles 3:01:16 Frith van der Merwe (Cape Town, 25 March 1989)
50km 3:08:39 Frith van der Merwe (Cape Town, 25 March 1989)
TRACK: ULTRA DISTANCES
100km 7:41:36 Wally Hayward (Motspur Park, 20 November 1953)
150km 11:50:09 Wally Hayward (Motspur Park, 20 November 1953)
100 miles 12:46:34 Wally Hayward (Motspur Park, 20 November 1953)
200km 17:33:25 Wally Hayward (Motspur Park, 20-21 November 1953)
24 hours 256.400km Wally Hayward (Motspur Park, 20-21 November 1953)
50km 3:25:29 Jackie Mekler (Deville, 5 September 1954)
40 miles 4:18:14 Jackie Mekler (Deville, 5 September 1954)
50 miles 5:24:27.4 Jackie Mekler (Deville, 5 September 1954)
30 miles 2:57:48 Jackie Mekler (Germiston, 15 January 1955)
40 miles 4:04:34 Gerald Walsh (Walton, 19 October 1957)
50 miles 5:16:07 Gerald Walsh (Walton, 19 October 1957)
100 miles 12:40:49 Dave Box (Durban, 11/12 October 1968)
100km 7:29:05 Dave Box (Walton, 26 October 1969)
150km 11:07:23 Derek Kay (Durban, 6-7 October 1972)
100 miles 11:56:56 Derek Kay (Durban, 6-7 October 1972)
24 hours 171.263km Mavis Hutchinson (Johannesburg, 27-28 August 1971)
100km 10:47:43 Marie-Jean Duyvejonck (Pretoria, 2 November 1979)