‘Golden boy’ makes SA proud

2015-09-02 06:00
WAYDE VAN NIEKERK with his coach, Anna “Tannie Ans” Botha.
Sidwell Guduka

WAYDE VAN NIEKERK with his coach, Anna “Tannie Ans” Botha. Photo: Sidwell Guduka

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CAPE TOWN and Bloemfontein tried to outdo each other in coining the phrase “Wayde, our golden boy”.

This was after Wayde van Niekerk was crowned the 400 m world champion at the IAAF World Championships in Beijing, China, on Wednesday (26/08). But each of the two cities can claim the fleet-footed sprinter as their own.

“I was born in Cape Town and all my family is over there, in Kraaifontein, Belville . . .” says the ardent soccer fan who supports Kaizer Chiefs, Liverpool and Real Madrid.

Van Niekerk and his mother, Odessa Swart, moved from Cape Town to Bloemfontein in 2005 when he was 13. Swart had just separated from the athlete’s father, Wayne van Niekerk, who remained behind in the Mother City.

The top runner, who is a Marketing student at the University of the Free State, has kept the two families together. He has two brothers and a baby sister.

“My success is their success. When I cry, we cry together,” he says.

The highly spiritual “WaydeDreamer”, as the sprinter calls himself, traces his first steps in athletics to his stepfather, Steven Swart.

“I literally stepped into my stepfather’s shoes. He gave me my first pair of running shoes – a pair of Asics shoes, which had funny flowers that I didn’t really like. But I embraced them. This was before I made any South African team. I was a nobody, I wasn’t even in the Free State team.”

Last week, Van Niekerk banked $60 000 (R798 000) for his 44.38 seconds of sprinting at the world championships. “I’m not going to go crazy with the money. I’ll invest it in property and try to get myself a house. I have more ideas and I’ll think it through and speak to my parents to see what’s my best option.”

Although it took a matter of seconds to hit the jackpot, Van Niekerk said the build-up to his race was nerve-wrecking. “I might have looked very composed on the track, but just lying on my bed the night before the race was not the best feeling.

“I sang the national anthem to myself to fall asleep,” he told City Press, Express’s sister paper, in an interview in the early hours of the morning after he had delivered South Africa’s first major sprint medal in history. His phone didn’t stop beeping.

“I have more than 110 WhatsApp messages, but I have already sent a message to my girlfriend,” he says.

The 23-year-old athlete was discharged from a local hospital, where he had received medical observation for exhaustion a few minutes after he had blown away the field in the 400 m final race of the world championships. But for those who know him well, Van Niekerk becomes a “hospital case” each time he runs a good race – he even throws up.

His coach, Anna “Tannie Ans” Botha (73), understands her charge better. “When he goes into a race like that, he absolutely gives it his all,” she says.

Van Niekerk doesn’t eat much on race days either. “I keep it light – I just nibble on nuts and fruits, and drink water and juice to hydrate,” he says. Off the track, our golden boy is not a tjatjarag type. “I try to keep my circle small. I’m the kind of guy who is always training and never have time to go out a lot. I don’t have time for chilla days.”


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