By Nick Mulvenney
RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - South Africa's Wayde van Niekerk ran the fastest single lap in history to win the 400 metres gold medal in 43.03 seconds and break a 17-year-old world record at the Olympic Games on Sunday.
Running in lane eight, the 24-year-old world champion got off to a flier and was streaking clear on the back straight but he upped his pace even further in the second half of the race to better American Michael Johnson's 1999 mark of 43.18 seconds.
Van Niekerk crossed the line a good five metres ahead of 2012 champion Kirani James and held his hands to his head in disbelief at his time before being embraced by the Grenadian, who took silver in 43.76.
LaShawn Merritt of the United States, the 2008 Olympic champion, claimed bronze in 43.85, the first time the top three had run under 44 seconds in an Olympic 400 final.
Johnson, who won back-to-back Olympic titles in the event in 1996 and 2000, was dumbfounded by the quality of Van Niekerk's finish.
"Oh my God! From lane eight, a world record," Johnson said on the BBC. "He took it out so quick. I have never seen anything from 200 to 400 like that."
(Editing by Ed Osmond)