When Wayde van Niekerk watched his beloved Liverpool beat Arsenal on the opening day of the soccer season in August he was inspired.
Later that day‚ he made history at the Rio Olympics‚ breaking the legendary Michael Johnson’s 17-year-old record by 0.15 seconds when he ran the 400m in just 43.03.
The 24-year-old paid tribute to Liverpool for raising his spirits before the race‚ and the Reds have repaid the compliment by rolling out the red carpet for the runner‚ who spent the Christmas holiday in the north-western English city with his girlfriend‚ Chesney Campbell.
On Tuesday night‚ he attended his first game at Anfield‚ watching his heroes cruise to a 4-1 victory over Stoke that took them to second place in the English Premier League.
Van Niekerk was welcomed to the club’s Legends Lounge and posed for photographs with the likes of former captain Steven Gerrard and manager Jurgen Klopp.
The runner‚ born in Cape Town but based in Bloemfontein‚ posted several Instagram photographs from Anfield‚ standing with star players such as Senegalese winger Sadio Mané‚ captain Jordan Henderson‚ midfielder Gini Wijnaldum and goalkeeper Simon Mignolet.
Earlier‚ Van Niekerk was welcomed to Liverpool’s training base at Melwood‚ where he met the squad and posted pictures with Brazilian star Philippe Coutinho‚ striker Daniel Sturridge and Belgian forward Divock Origi.
On December 19‚ Van Niekerk was at Goodison Park to see the Reds’ dramatic 1-0 victory over Everton in the Merseyside derby‚ and he told Liverpool’s website how watching Klopp’s men beat Arsenal 4-3 helped him to Olympic greatness.
He said: “Yes‚ I watched the Arsenal-Liverpool game and it definitely lifted up my spirits a lot.
“When you’re an athlete‚ you’re laying around in your room and you’re isolated‚ doing your own thing (before a race).
“It took my mind away from the race that was happening later in the evening. The game was during the afternoon and my race was late at night.
“For about two hours I could think football‚ I could think Liverpool and with that we got the win‚ so I was quite happy and joyful.”
“My mood was quite high for quite a bit‚ so it took my mind away from the fact that I was racing later.
“I remember telling my girlfriend afterwards‚ ‘I’ve got a race later‚ I need to take a nap and get ready for the race’. But Liverpool did play a big role in my mood that day.”
After Van Niekerk’s gold medal-winning run‚ the official LiverpoolFC Twitter account tweeted: “43.03! Congratulations to massive Red @WaydeDreamer on Olympic #Gold & your new world record at #Rio2016!”
On Instagram‚ Liverpool skipper Jordan Henderson posted a photograph of Van Niekerk and said: “Congratulations to @waydedreamer on becoming Olympic champion and setting new world record. Amazing performance from a big LFC fan.” – Tiso Black Star Group Digital/The Times