RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) - Wayde van Niekerk of South Africa has won the Olympic 400-meter title in a world record 43.03 seconds. Van Niekerk, running in the outside lane, stormed out of the blocks and held off of 2012 champion Kirani James and LaShawn Merritt. He lowered the mark of 43.18 that Michael Johnson set in Seville, Spain, in 1999.
Defending champion Kirani James set the tone for the 400-meter final by leading the semifinals in his season-best 44.02 seconds.
James, who won the Olympic gold as a 19-year-old at London in 2012, held off 2008 champion LaShawn Merritt in 44.21 in the first of three semifinal heats.
Michel Cedenio of Trinidad and Tobago won the second heat in 44.39, holding off world champion Wayde van Niekerk, who finished in 44.45.
Bralon Taplin of Grenada had the fourth-fastest qualifying time, winning the third heat in 44.44. The final is scheduled for Sunday night.