A Great Granny who coaches an Olympic Champion
The old woman, Anna Sofia Botha, 74, kept getting turned away, even though her credentials were impeccable when she tried to get close enough to congratulate the South African runner Wayde van Niekerk. Her student who had just won the gold medal in the 400 meters and broken a decade old world record in men’s track and field.
With her white helmet hair and kindly air, event officials could not believe that she was the coach of a gold medalist and record holder in one of track’s popular events.
When news spread about her, that a most unlikely coach had helped propel Van Niekerk to gold, Botha was on the spotlight in the city or at least the Olympic Village.
She seemed confused when Sports Journalists surrounded her for interviews about her latest glory. She was anonymous before the victory. Members of the South African team had to help her get close to Van Niekerk, whom she has coached for four years, for more than an hour after he had broken the world record of 43.18 previously held by the American Michael Johnson from 1999 with a 43.03 runtime. Van Niekerk won the race from Lane 8, considered a disadvantageous position.
Tears were shed, she said. “We just hugged each other,” Botha said. “It wasn’t necessary to say anything. We knew in our hearts and in our minds what we thought and what we had achieved.”
Botha compted in the Olympics without any Distinction during her youth days. She began coaching in 1968 in Namibia with her children the first ones to be her students. She later stopped coaching her own children as she believed it was best for them.
The previous year, an 18-year-old Van Niekerk triumphed over the 200 meters at the South African Athletics Championships with a personal best of 20.57 seconds.Van Niekerk’s main event is the 200 meters run, but the event is more suited for athletes with bodies that can stand the stress needed to quickly charge forward. He was often injured, and so Botha encouraged Van Niekerk to switch his focus to the 400 meters, reasoning that he could still take advantage of his sprinting abilities but with less wear and tear on his body. In 2015, van Niekerk won the gold medal in the 400 Meter World Championship, proving Botha to be right. Botha acknowledges Van Niekerk's ability to listen when she advises him.
Botha is described as a benevolent disciplinarian by her athletes. "When I first met her I was scared of her," Simbine said. Van Niekerk is very thankful to Botha for imparting a disciplined attitude on him while he trains for competition. Botha said she is currently coaching other talented athletes, two girls and another boy.
Botha is now 74 years old and has no plans to retire from coaching any time soon