In setting the 400-meter world record Sunday to win gold at the Rio Olympics, South Africa’s Wayde van Niekerk credited experience. But not his.
Van Niekerk is coached by a 74-year-old great-grandmother named Ans Botha.
“She’s an amazing woman,” van Niekerk said after the race, according to Sport24. “She’s played a huge role in where I am today. She’s really kept me very disciplined and very focused on the goal and where I need to be.”
Botha, a former sprinter and long jumper who is the head coach at University of the Free State, became van Niekerk’s mentor in 2012 when he began attending the school as a marketing student and promising runner, the Washington Post reported.
Botha helped him overcome nagging injuries first, then formulated a plan for his development.
“I have such a big responsibility to get this athlete to develop to his full potential,” she told City Press last year.
In an interview with NBC that aired before the race, she said, “I try every day to do my best for him.”
We’d say her strategy worked out:
Van Niekerk blazed to a time of 43.03 seconds Sunday, breaking Michael Johnson’s 17-year-old world record of 43.18.
In a coaching career spanning five decades, Botha had never coached a champion at such an elite level, the Post noted. But her approach has always been the same for her athletes: “They have to enjoy training; that’s very important,” she said. “They say you’re never too old to learn, especially in athletics.”
Her protege wasn’t about to argue with that. “I’m just grateful that I can trust in her work and I think it speaks for itself,” the sprinter said, according to Sport24. “I’m just grateful to be a part of the history that she has made as a coach and just grateful to be where I am today.”
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