Bursting out of the blocks in Lane 8, Wayde van Niekerk of South Africa did not see another runner during the entire Olympic 400-meter final.
He didn’t need to. His only real competition was the clock.
The South African sprinter broke Michael Johnson’s 17-year-old world record on Sunday night in Rio de Janeiro, leaving two of the greatest one-lap runners of this era in his dust. Van Niekerk finished in 43.03 seconds — 0.15 of a second faster than Johnson’s time in 1999. Johnson’s mark was had been considered one of the almost untouchable records in track. The 24-year-old van Niekerk leaned at the finish line, which he really didn’t need to do as Kirani James of Grenada and LaShawn Merritt of the United States weren’t even in the picture. James, the defending Olympic champion, finished with the silver, and Merritt, who won gold eight years ago in Beijing, hung on for bronze as he staggered across the line.