Wayde’s family basks in the glory of his IAAF sprints
At home in Kraaifontein in Cape Town, Sophia van Niekerk received the best 68th birthday gift a granny could ask for: silver and gold medals for her fleet-footed grandson Wayde.
The South African champion once again stole hearts and headlines at the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) World Championships in London in the UK this week.
Van Niekerk and her husband, Wathen, were glued to their TV on Thursday night as Wayde clinched silver, finishing second to Ramil Guliyev from Turkey in the 200m final at London’s Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.
This followed Wayde’s third global 400m title on Tuesday night, when he stormed to victory in 43.98 seconds.
Van Niekerk turned 68 last Friday. Speaking to City Press this Friday morning, she poured cold water on the controversy around Wayde’s 400m gold.
Botswana’s Isaac Makwala accused the athletics world governing body of unfairly keeping him in quarantine on Tuesday night, paving the way for Wayde’s win. There had been an outbreak of the norovirus bug at Makwala’s hotel in London.
“I felt a bit upset about these remarks about favouritism,” said Van Niekerk.
“Wayde has worked really hard and that’s why people like him … Makwala is a good athlete, but that was an ugly remark.”
In a BBC Sports interview after the 200m race on Thursday, Wayde broke down into sobs, saying he felt he had been disrespected.
“I worked just as hard as every other competitor … I don’t think I got the respect I deserved after I won the 400 metres,” he said.
But he ended the interview on a positive note: “I believe this is the beginning of so much more I can achieve. I will put in more hard work and show my dominance.”
Fans from around the world took to Twitter to show their support for the South African champion.
The Kraaifontein-born-and-raised sprinter was in the media spotlight after global athletics superstar Usain Bolt, who retires this weekend, tipped him as his successor before the championships. Asked who might replace him, Bolt said: “I think Wayde is doing a pretty good job.”
On Friday, Van Niekerk said she was still waiting for her post-race message from her 25-year-old grandson, but he was under huge pressure. “It is very intense for him and he gets attacked by media after the races, so I accept that. But my heart is so glad.”
In March last year, five months before the Rio Olympics in Brazil,
Van Niekerk woke up at the Panorama hospital in Cape Town with Wayde by her side, after undergoing a quintuple heart bypass. “I was very sick,” she said. “But there was Wayde and he said to me: ‘Gran, you must get better. You must come to Brazil with us.’ “So I did. I got better. The doctor was amazed by my recovery.” The family rallied behind Wayde in Rio de Janeiro, where they all shared a flat near the stadium: his grandparents, his father Wayne, his mother Odessa Swarts and her second husband Steven, his aunt Alnisha van Niekerk Pillar, and his fiancée, University of the Free State lecturer Chesney Campbell.
Campbell and Wayde met at the university four years ago. He was studying marketing and she was a sociology student. Campbell was also in London this week.
Van Niekerk said a “WhatsApp save the date” message for the couple’s upcoming wedding had been circulated to family and friends, but Campbell did not want to reveal details.
Alnisha, who is Wayde’s godmother, told City Press that as a youngster, he used to outrun other children playing in Kraaifontein. “Playing touchies or whatever, Wayde could always run away from the other children,” she said.
Wayde lived next door to Alnisha until he was 11, but moved to Bloemfontein with his mother after his parents divorced.
Alnisha said athletics ran in the family genes. “Wayne [Alnisha’s brother and Wayde’s father] ran at high school and primary school. But he was more of a high jumper. He went to Johannesburg to represent Boland … I also had a record for high jumping at my school. I held it for four years until Wayde’s mother, then Odessa Krause, shattered it.”
Alnisha runs a Transnet canteen in Cape Town which is plastered with photographs of Wayde. This week, she had to dash across the road to the men’s mess room to watch her nephew race.
“All the guys were watching with me, cheering. It was joyous,” she said. Meanwhile, grandmother Sophia said Panorama hospital staff treated her like gold after learning who her grandson was.
“I felt a bit bad about this preferential treatment, you know. Such good service, just because my grandson is a legend.”
Also scoring top honours for South Africa was Luvo Manyonga (26), from Mbekweni township in Paarl, who won long jump gold last Saturday. Manyonga was joined in London by his girlfriend, Khomotso Mamburu, a law student at the University of the Free State.