South African 400m runner comes out on top in one of the all-time great races, as Julius Yego’s 92m javelin is another highlight on day five of the World Championships

Wayde van Niekerk produced the best performance of these World Championship so far, clocking the sixth fastest 400m in history of 43.48.

The South African prevailed in the greatest 400m race in history, beating world champion LaShawn Merritt and Olympic champion Kirani James into second and third.

Only world record-holder Michael Johnson, Butch Reynolds and Jeremy Wariner have run quicker than Van Niekerk, who started 2015 with a best of only 44.38.

Merritt, the 2008 Olympic champion, clocked a PB 43.65 as he battled James (43.78) in the home straight. Dominican Republic’s Luguelin Santos ran 44.11 but that was amazingly not good enough for a medal.

Before this race, the fastest non-winning time in history was 43.91, but that record was broken as best-ever times for second, third and fourth were set.

The race had promised much as five men lined up with PBs under 44 seconds. Van Niekerk in lane six set off at a great pace in pursuing the fast-starting Merritt, two lanes to his outside. The South African led into the finishing straight as James, in lane five, finished strongly.

However, Van Niekerk did not falter against the two men who have dominated the event over most of the last decade.

The 23-year-old was fourth at the 2010 World Junior Championships 200m and, concentrating more latterly on the one-lap event, he failed to make it out of the heats of the last World Championships in Moscow, running just 46.37. However, last year he improved his best by seven tenths to 44.38 and this year he has been a revelation, although Beijing had been considered to be a wide-open contest.

Botswana’s Isaac Makwala, who had led the world rankings with his altitude-assisted 43.72, was fifth with 44.63.

Britain’s Rabah Yousif, who in the semi-finals improved his PB by more than a half a second with 44.54, was sixth with 44.68. Trinidad and Tobago’s Machel Cedenio was seventh with 45.06, while Saudi Arabia’s Yousef Masrahi, who had produced an incredible 43.96 in round one, was eighth with 45.15.

Best six 400m in history
43.18 Michael Johnson ’99
43.29 Butch Reynolds ’88
43.39 Johnson ’95
43.44 Johnson ’96
43.45 Jeremy Wariner ’07
43.48 Wayde Van Niekerk ’15
That 400m ended day five, but it had been difficult to envision anything trumping the javelin, which started the evening.

In that event, Julius Yego produced the longest throw anywhere in the world for 14 years, falling just eight centimetres short of Jan Zelezny’s championship record with 92.72m.

Hailing from a nation much better known for distance running, Yego famously taught himself the techniques of the event by watching the likes of Zelezny on YouTube.

Now, the man who was fourth at these championships two years ago is himself among the greats, with only the Czech legend and Finland’s Aki Parviainen ahead of him on distances.

Yego led the 2015 world rankings with the 91.39m in Birmingham which was initially ruled outside the sector and a foul. However, there was no doubt about this 90-metre throw in the third after the 26-year-old stepped up from a foul and then an 82-mark in the opening two rounds.

The previous holder of the African record and last year’s world No.1, Ihab Abdelrahman, was 22cm short of his best with 88.99 in taking silver. Finland’s 2007 world champion Tero Pitkamaki was third with 87.34m.

Best 10 throws in history
98.48 Jan Zelezny ’96
95.66 Zelezny ’96
95.54 Zelezny ’93
94.64 Zelezny ’96
94.02 Zelezny ’97
93.09 Aki Parviainen ’99
92.80 Zelezny ’01
92.72 Julius Yego ’15
92.61 Sergey Makarov ’02
92.60 Raymond Hecht ’95

Meanwhile, the stage is set for a dramatic rematch between Usain Bolt and Justin Gatlin as both the of the two favourites for the 200m qualified for the final with ease.

That was after Britain’s Zharnel Hughes won the first heat in 20.14 (wind speed: +0.4), looking as though his PB of 20.05 and the 20-second barrier could be there for the taking in the final Thursday. Jamaican’s Nickel Ashmeade followed him into the final as he clocked 20.19 for second.

Next up was Gatlin, who leads the world rankings this year with 19.57 and is unbeaten at the distance since 2013. He looked easy in clocking 19.87 (-0.2) as Panama’s Alonso Edward also secured an automatic qualification place with 20.02 for second. It meant third-placed Qatar’s Femi Ogunode had a long wait before learning his 20.05 national record was enough to see him through as a fastest loser.

Bolt, who is bidding to add a second gold to his 100m equivalent from Sunday, eased to a win in the third heat in 19.95 (+0.8). South Africa’s Anaso Jobodwana was second with 20.01, while Turkey’s Ramil Guliyev gained the third fastest loser place with 20.10.

“The key is just to execute and get through the rounds,” said Bolt afterwards. “I was just trying to run as easier as possible… I’m the better 200m runner and I’m going to show it.”

In Bolt’s heat, GB’s Dan Talbot took three hundredths off his PB with 20.27 as he finished fifth and failed to progress.

» See the September 3 edition of AW magazine for coverage of the final five days of World Championships action, while the August 27 edition includes reports, results, news, stats and more from the first four days