Marius van Heerden has died at the age of 46 due to COVID-19 ©Team South Africa

Former South African men's 800 metres record holder and Atlanta 1996 Olympian, Marius van Heerden, has died at the age of 46 after contracting COVID-19.

Van Heerden reportedly became ill with the virus a week ago, before passing away in a hospital in Cape Town on Friday (January 22).

He leaves behind his wife Petra and his two sons, Tiaan and Hugo.

Van Heerden set the South African national record in the 800m at the Green Point Stadium in Cape Town in 1996, running a time of 1min 44.57sec.

He would become an Olympian later that year when he represented South Africa at the Atlanta 1996 Olympics, but did not make it past the heats, finishing third with a time of 1:47.46.

The current 800m national record was set by Hezekiél Sepeng in 1999, with a new best of 1:42.69.

Sepeng won the silver medal in the same event at Atlanta 1996.

"Before the race I was very calm and my target was to run 1:44.5," said Van Heerden in 1996 after he broke the record that had stood for 25 years.

"I was a bit behind at the bell and I had to work very hard on the last lap to stay with the pace.

"I just went for it and in the last five metres I was watching the clock and I lost my rhythm a little."

The previous mark before he set the national record dated back to 1971, held by Dicky Bromberg and equalled two years later by Marcello Fiascanaro.