It was just two hundredths of a second that ultimately prevented Wayde van Niekerk from pulling off what was last achieved 22 years ago – a remarkable 400-200m World Championships double.
Half way down the home straight it looked like he had done it, but Turkey’s Ramil Guliyev surged ahead to take the gold in 20.09 seconds and Van Niekerk the silver. Trinidad and Tobago’s Jereem Richards was third in a photo finish by an incredible thousandth of a second.
It’s a silver that seemed a long way away after Wednesday’s semifinal, when the South African just scraped through as one of the fastest third-placed athletes.
But he was a different man on Thursday and, coming down the home straight, looked well on course to emulate American Michael Johnson’s double.
It was not to be. But a 400m gold and 200m silver is certainly nothing to be sniffed at. It’s a massive achievement and one that has solidified South Africa’s third spot on the medal table at these championships in London.
Botswana’s Isaac Makwala, the fastest man over 200m in the world this year, finished in sixth place in 20.44.
“It was really a massive roller-coaster for me, this competition,” said an emotional Van Niekerk afterwards. “I didn’t just celebrate the medal I got tonight, it was more a celebration of the competition overall. Coming away with two medals – both a good colour, gold and silver. I think it’s great for my career and another moment to be grateful for.
“It’s such a massive relief, this competition has been crazy with highs and lows, the previous two days have been difficult with the weather being so cold too.”
Guliyev said: “This is not a shock but this does not feel real. I am so proud. This title means a lot.
“I have shown my best throughout this competition. I delivered my best race at the right time. I was competing against some of the best athletes in the world, so it didn’t bother me that the attention was on them. Maybe at the next competition everyone will look at me instead,” added the new world champion.
Earlier in the evening, Caster Semenya made absolutely sure of her place in Saturday’s 800m semifinals with victory in her heat in 2:01.33. But not before giving SA’s youngster Gena Lofstrand some advice for her first ever World Championships.
It seems to have paid off as the 21-year-old also made it through to Friday’s semifinals in 2:01.73.
Lofstrand finished seventh in her heat but it was thankfully a speedy one, which meant she went through as one of the fastest “losers”.
Semenya, who took 1 500m bronze on Monday, was completely in control of her race, doing just enough to finish in front.
“It’s 800 – we’re used to it. It was just all about getting the rhythm back,” she said afterwards. “It looked a little bit quicker. It wasn’t the pace I was looking for in the first round. But 2:01 is a reasonable pace so it makes sense. The girls are looking good. We just have to focus on what we do and then we deliver.”
Asked whether she was still feeling the effects of her efforts in the 1 500m, the Olympic champion added: “Not really because 1 500 is more of a preparation for the 800. It’s just three and a half laps – only one and a half more – so basically it’s like what we do at home all the time. We’ll just take it as part of training and we’re happy.”
Also looking good in that heat was Burundi’s Olympic silver medallist Francine Niyonsaba, who went through as the quickest qualifier after winning in 1:59.86 – the only athlete to go sub-two minutes in the heats.
“I’m happy. It was good for the confidence out there,” she said afterwards. “Every race is difficult, but I’m looking to improve my time, make it to the final, and then I’m looking for the gold.”
Another of SA’s athletes in action, Justine Palframan, had done well to reach Thursday’s 200m semifinals, but the final was just one step too far. She finished seventh in 23.21 seconds.
Rocco van Rooyen missed out on Saturday’s javelin final after falling short in qualification. His best effort of 74.02m saw him finishing 30th overall.
Kenya’s reigning world champion Julius Yego made it through, however, with a best throw of 83.57m.
“I have to defend this title. It is difficult because the boys have been throwing far this year. It will be difficult but also fun. I just need one big throw. London is always amazing. When you have such a crowd cheering for you anything can happen.”