The Star Behind Wayde Van Niekerks’ Olympic Win: His Great-Grandmother

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South Africa’s apartheid laws prevented her daughter from competing internationally, but her coaching has her great-grandson breaking world records at the Olympics.

South African sprinter Wayde van Niekerk, 24, left the Olympic stadium in awe after he outdid a 400m world record set by U.S. star Michael Johnson.

 

 

While Van Niekerk’s performance left many people stunned, his choice of coach attracted even more attention. She is his 74-year-old great-grandmother, Anna Botha, who is exactly half a century older than her great-grandson and is the invisible hand behind his athletic achievements.

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Botha, who hails from Namibia, began coaching in the 1960s and started off with her own talented children. But over time, other aspiring athletes approached her for guidance. Even at the age of 74, Botha doesn’t feel old, and the idea of retiring doesn’t cross her mind.

Botha and her great-grandson share a unique bond which comes with unwavering trust and tremendous respect. Although Botha has rules and trains the young athletes to be disciplined while competing, she makes a special effort to listen to what their bodies have to say.

“If the body says stop, we stop, or go a little softer," she says.

Botha’s training has helped knock four seconds off Van Niekerk's 400m time, a huge advantage in sprinting.

His mother, Odessa Swarts, was unable to compete internationally due to South Africa’s apartheid rules, but her son’s victory has “moved people from across the globe.”

 

“It's like this child has woken up the world, not just South Africa... he has us all stunned,” Swarts said.

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