The Women Behind Olympian Wayde van Niekerk

The anatomy of a champion starts well before he or she takes to the track. Here’s a look at the women behind South African 400 metre World Record Holder Wayde van Niekerk.


The Mother

During the late 1980s and early 1990s Odessa Swart was an all-star track athlete who excelled in the 100 and 200 metre races. By the time Odessa had retired from athletics she had held 6 school and club records in South Africa. Now, more than 25 years later her son Wayde van Niekerk follows in her footsteps as he beat Micheal Johnson’s 17 year old World record in the men’s 400 metre race. The confidence Wayde shows on the track can be traced back to his upbringing in a loving and supportive family where his dreams of excelling in whichever aspect of his life has been supported tenfold. Odessa has raised Wayde to not worry about competitors during races but instead to focus on himself and where he finds himself on the track. Wayde’s mother and the rest of his family knew he would claim gold but did not expect that he would take the World Record as well.

The Coach

To van Niekerk’s coach, Anna Botha, arriving five minutes early for practice is considered late. It is this strictness that the Olympic sprinter has thanked as the driving force behind the last 100 metres of his recording setting race. Anna Botha started out by passing her knowledge and training as a sprinter on to her children. “She doesn’t see us as athletes or as people; she sees us as her children,” said van Niekerk during a press conference shortly after breaking the record. The great grandmother of four is not planning on retiring from her spot as the head of track and field at the University of the Free State where van Niekerk has been studying marketing. Anna has been a coach at the university since 1990 and only teamed up with van Niekerk shortly after the 2012 Olympics.

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