Granny coaches van Niek­erk to vic­tory

Lesotho Times - - Sport -

RIO DE JANEIRO — She’s a 74-year-old vet­eran coach, whose phi­los­o­phy is you’re never too old to learn.

South Africa’s Wayde van Niek­erk sen­sa­tion­ally won Olympic 400-me­ter gold at Rio 2016 — smash­ing Michael John­son’s 17-yearold record along the way — and he has his coach Anna Botha 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.

Van Niek­erk cred­ited Botha’s regime on Fox Sports af­ter his win: “She’s re­ally kept me very dis­ci­plined on the goal and wherere I need to be.

“I’m re­ally grate­ful I can go on the track­ack and say my coach has pushed me to reach ev­ery level and be­lieve any­thing is pos­si­ble.

“She’s an amaz­ing woman. She’s played da a huge role in what I am to­day.”

Botha, who is af­fec­tion­ately called ‘ Tanan­nie Ans’ by her ath­letes, be­gan her coaching­ing ca­reer train­ing her daugh­ter Herma in her home­land of Namibia, but soon had a growow­ing brood of ath­letes.

Her fam­ily moved to Bloem­fontein in the late 1980s and it was there her coach­ing ca­reer went from strength to strength. Bothatha re­gards the se­cret to her suc­cess as pray­ing, ng, “be­cause I am un­able to do it on my own.”

There may be 50 years be­tween them but Van Niek­erk and Botha have found a par­tart­ner­ship of per­son­al­i­ties that works.

“I dearly love all my ath­letes but it’s aboutout be­ing strict,” ex­plained Botha, who also be­lieves fe­male coaches can of­fer “some­thing­ing dif­fer­ent psy­cho­log­i­cally.”

She added: “We can laugh, but when we have to work hard, we work hard.”

Botha was sat in the stands at Rio’s Olymympic Sta­dium to watch her star pupil lead­ead from the gun to the line, run­ning blind in the out­side lane eight, to win his first Olympicpic medal.

“I thought some­one was go­ing to catch me, be­cause I felt very alone and I was like ‘what’s go­ing on, what’s go­ing on?’“Vanan Niek­erk told re­porters in Rio. “It gave me so much mo­ti­va­tion to keep push­ing.

“I be­lieve in my­self as an ath­lete and I be­lieve in my abil­i­ties,” he added. “God just showed how faith­ful he’s been in my life and I’m very grate­ful for the con­tin­u­ous bless­ing.”

The 24-year-old ran his own re­mark­able race in Rio and maybe that’s be­cause great- grandma knows best. — CNN

anna Botha is coach of 400-me­ter gold medal­ist and new world record holder Wayde van niek­erk.

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