SA’s true golden girl

Superstar sprinter Wayde van Niek­erk’s coach is 73 years old, but still has fresh plans to up her game

CityPress - - Sport - Daniel Mothowa­gae

Meet Anna “Tan­nie Ans” Botha, the great­grand­mother coach be­hind South Africa’s newly crowned 400m world cham­pion Wayde van Niek­erk.

Botha is count­ing down the days to her 74th birth­day in three months’ time, but she has swag and oozes the en­ergy of a teenager.

“I’m very blessed be­cause I don’t have any health prob­lems, and it is be­cause I’m busy with young peo­ple – and you have to be high up there with them,” chuck­led Botha, who was a sprinter and long jumper in her hey­day.

She com­pares to grandpa coach Clive Barker in soc­cer – old school coaches who are great mo­ti­va­tors and get the best out of their charges with­out push­ing them too hard.

Botha said her “pas­sion is too high” to stop coach­ing in a ca­reer span­ning five decades.

The Uni­ver­sity of the Free State (Kovsies) head coach came close to tears when she de­scribed the mas­sive re­spon­si­bil­i­ties that came with han­dling the special tal­ent that was Van Niek­erk.

“I wouldn’t say I’m afraid ... [long, deep breath] but I have such a big re­spon­si­bil­ity to get this ath­lete to de­velop to his full po­ten­tial. Also, I need to try to do my very best not to do some­thing wrong that might break him. This medal was planned three years ago,” said Botha, choked up with strong emo­tion.

“We had a meet­ing with his par­ents and planned how we were go­ing to man­age this – our sit­u­a­tion, our goals and our ideals. The main thing is we lis­tened to what his body said to us. If the body said stop, we stopped, or went a lit­tle softer.”

Botha said the 23-year-old’s po­ten­tial grabbed her at­ten­tion when Van Niek­erk was a school­boy who went on to fin­ish fourth in the 200m fi­nal of the 2010 IAAF World Ju­nior Cham­pi­onships in Moncton, Canada.

The two joined forces in Oc­to­ber 2012 when Van Niek­erk en­rolled as a mar­ket­ing stu­dent at Kovsies, where Botha has been the in­sti­tu­tion’s ath­let­ics coach for 25 years. He spent their first three months to­gether re­ha­bil­i­tat­ing some nig­gling in­juries. Be­fore then, Botha’s sig­nif­i­cant in­ter­na­tional achieve­ment was Thuso Mpuang’s sil­ver (2011) and bronze medals (2009) from the World Stu­dent Games.

Now the vet­eran men­tor has achieved the rare feat of end­ing the coun­try’s cen­tu­ry­long wait for a sprint medal in ma­jor com­pe­ti­tion. Bei­jing was her first time at an IAAF World Cham­pi­onships, but she said she was not star-struck shar­ing the com­pe­ti­tion’s warm-up area tracks with the camps of star ath­letes such as Ja­maica’s Us­ain Bolt and the US’s Justin Gatlin.

In­stead, Botha said she learnt a few things she would try with her train­ing group in Bloem.

“This was all new to me and was an amaz­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. I only stole [coach­ing ideas] with my eyes. That is, if I see some­thing that will work on my ath­letes, I will try it and im­ple­ment it. That’s how I al­ways try to bring some­thing new in our train­ing. They have to en­joy train­ing; that’s very im­por­tant. They say you’re never too old to learn, es­pe­cially in ath­let­ics,” said the great­grand­mother of four.

Now that the hard job is done in Bei­jing, Botha said the SA 400m cham­pion must get through this sea­son with­out in­juries.

“An in­jury-free sea­son means my foun­da­tion to work on for next year will be stronger. Our goal for next year is for him not to over-race,” said Botha in ref­er­ence to their build-up to next year’s Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

“Now we want to train in a man­ner in which we can strengthen his body to get stamina. Oth­er­wise, he has a very strong mind.”

Look­ing back, Botha said her charge had come along really well in low­er­ing his 400m times from 48 sec­onds three years ago to a now world-lead­ing sub-44 sec­ond mark.

The South African sprinter’s win­ning time of 43.48 sec­onds in the fi­nal on Wed­nes­day is ranked the fourth-fastest in his­tory, three­hun­dredths of a sec­ond off Michael John­son’s record of 43.18 sec­onds.

MEN­TOR

Meet Tan­nie Ans

(Anna Botha), the 73-year-old

coach be­hind the suc­cess of 400m world champ Wayde van

Niek­erk

Au­gust 26 2015 Im­proves on the African and SA record at IAAF Cham­pi­onships, Bei­jing

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