On August 14, 2016, things didn’t seem to be going right for Wayde van Niekerk.
In spite of two strong runs in the qualifying heats of the 400 metres, his final finishing time would see him placed in lane 8 – the very outside lane of the track.
To most observers, this spelt the end of Wayde’s bid for Olympic glory. No Olympic competitor had ever won from this position. And with the fastest Olympic time ever posted in lane 8 sitting at a 44.66” benchmark, achieved by Grenadian sprinter Alleyne Francique in 2004, no fan of athletics would really expect one to.
The challenges of racing from this position are difficult to overstate. Staggered well ahead of the rest of their competitors, an athlete in lane 8 has no one to chase, and no-one to follow. It’s a lonely run. A run that tests your inner resolve, your reserves of physical and mental stamina, and of course, your courage.
Running in lane 8 demands 300 metres of intensely anaerobic, high-speed sprinting with little to no insight on how your performance compares to those around you. You have to give your all, without knowing if your all is good enough.
To win from this position, an athlete has to run a perfectly paced race, with nothing to guide them but their own rhythm and sense of how best to navigate the distance. It’s for this reason that Wayde’s historic 2016 run was often referred to as the lonely sprint.
Later in life, after the glory of his accomplishment had achieved more perspective, Wayde would begin to speak publicly about the pain and doubt that plagued him in his run up to the 2016 Olympic final. He’d spent the night before the final contest in tears. His old hamstring and back injuries had flared up painfully twice around the 200 metre mark of his qualifying heats. As flag bearer for South Africa’s Olympic hopes and dreams, he’d been convinced that he was going to disappoint.
But still, he ran.
He pushed through his fear. He silenced the voices of doubt, the voices that said, “You can’t”. In spite of everything that said – success here is impossible – Wayde ran. From the difficult position of lane 8, he delivered 163 of the perfectly engineered and powerful steps a human has ever accomplished.
But still, he ran.
He trusted in his preparations. He believed in himself. He believed that he belonged in that moment and that he could do what no one before him had done. He believed that it was still his race to run. With that unwavering belief, he not only won but shattered a 17 year old world record, shaving an impressive 17 hundredths of a second from Michael Johnson’s previously unassailable 400 metre rank and came tantalisingly close to breaking the 43 second barrier that had eluded athletes for so long.
So when your next lonely run lies before you and the odds seem impossible or stacked against you, remember Wayde and his lane 8 story. No matter how difficult your starting point can seem, you can still achieve an extraordinary future.
Because it’s in these moment of extraordinary challenge, that a restless spirit is born. It’s where deep passions are ignited and the choices that we make in the present, allow us to redefine our boundaries and our futures. It’s where a character of optimistic defiance and hope is born.
Remember that like Wayde, your character can guide you through the moments where great uncertainty and great obstacles, confront great ambition. It can allow you to sense the way forward, not as some distant goal but as a horizon that’s visible to no one but yourself.
Because ultimately, the story of your own lane 8 does not have to be a story of disadvantage, setback and challenges. No matter how long or hard the journey may seem, it can be a story of courage, hope and triumph, delivered by a vision that no one but you can sense.
As an unmistakable pioneer and athlete, who has redefined what’s possible on the track, Wayde has been an ambassador for Audi since early 2016. As a quietly confident competitor, he’s shown South Africans that it’s entirely possible to compete on the world stage and achieve the extraordinary, while remaining true to who you are.
Wayde also has a long history of defying the odds. He encompasses a rare spirit of bravery, personal mastery and resilience. Wayde lives and breathes progress and always embraces an optimistic view of life. This is the essence of Audi’s Vorsprung ethos.
As an Audi Q8 driver, he is a fitting ambassador to the Audi brand.