South Africa’s Wayde van Niekerk sensationally won Olympic 400-meter gold at Rio 2016 — smashing Michael Johnson’s 17-year-old record along the way — and he has his coach Anna Botha who is a Great-Grandmother to thank.
The 74-year-old coach’s philosophy is all about discipline and hard work, albeit leavened by laughter.
“You are never too old to learn,” Botha — a great-grandmother of four with a neat wave of white hair — told the IAAF website of her coaching convictions — and that’s the principle she applied to turning Van Niekerk into an Olympic champion.
The 24-year-old started working with Botha after the last Olympic cycle in 2012 when he began his studies at the University of the Free State in Bloemfontein. She’s been the head coach of track and field there since 1990.
A former sprinter and long jumper, Botha immediately set about switching his focus from the 200m to 400m to protect him against persistent injuries, and the times steadily began to tumble.
In 2013, Van Niekerk’s best time over the one-lap sprint was 45.09 seconds; when he won his first major medal at the 2015 World Championships it had dropped to 43.48; and in Brazil, he shattered Johnson’s world record in a stunning 43.03s.
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