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Wayde's coach: The most famous 'Tannie' in the world

2016-08-15 23:03
Ans Botha (Lloyd Burnard)

Rio de Janeiro - The Team South Africa camp at the athletes village in Rio de Janeiro on Monday was the place to be. 

Journalists from all around the world desperately sought a moment with new 400m world record holder Wayde van Niekerk ... but there was another star attraction. 

It came in the form of Ans Botha - the 74-year-old Namibian who has been coaching since 1968.

One of her earliest star pupils was Namibian great Frankie Fredericks, who she coached at school, but this is her crowning moment. 

Botha has been mentoring Van Niekerk since October 2012.

It is a quite remarkable story considering the age gap between athlete and coach is 50 years. 

Despite her relatively low profile, Botha fielded countless questions on Monday with the composure of a seasoned media veteran. 

She says that her life has not been the same since Van Niekerk won gold at the 2015 World Championships in Beijing, but this is another level. 

"You can see what’s going on around me now," Botha giggled, pointing at the pack of journalists that had engulfed her.  

"I’m not used to media and exposure and stuff like that."

But what Botha is used to is getting the best out of her athletes, and she knew in the build-up to Sunday night's (Monday morning, SA time) final that Van Niekerk was on the verge of something special.

In fact, she even thought he could break 43 seconds (his world record was 43.03). 

"That was in our minds, yes," she said.

Botha was a Free State Athletics selector when Van Niekerk, who had just finished up at Grey College, asked her if he could be a part of her team.

She obliged.

"I knew him. I was living in Bloemfontein and he was in Grey College," she said.

"I didn’t know him as a person, but I knew about him and saw him competing. He asked me if he could join the group."

Botha struggles to remember the first time she saw Van Niekerk compete - a task made more difficult by the fact that high jump was his passion for much of high school. 

But it soon became clear to Botha that Van Niekerk possessed something special. 

"I knew he had outstanding talents and I knew that with careful coaching and handling he could become a world class athlete," she said.

"It’s three and a half years ago. Anything can happen … we’re blessed and thankful. He did what he really dreamed about."

The build-up to Rio was about meticulous planning as split after split was monitored.

But, on the night that mattered, Botha kept her distance.

"We didn’t really converse before the race because that we already did in Italy at the training base," she said.

"He knew what I wanted and what we worked for so there was no reason to make his mind full of new ideas and thoughts. The more empty the mind is the more focused it is on what it has to do.

"I just told him last night that he needed to dictate the race and not allow anyone to dictate the race to him … and that’s what he did."

Botha, after nearly 50 years of coaching, now has a world record holder on her books. 

And not just any world record ... a world record that stood for 17 years and was set by one of the all-time greats (Michael Johnson). 

What's her secret? 

Van Niekerk offered some insight. 

"Discipline. Her greatest strength is discipline. When we're five minutes early we're late ... I think her watch is set off a bit," the new Olympic champion said.

"She has that discipline, but at the same time she doesn't really see us as athletes but as her children. She puts in that extra effort to look after us no matter what we need."

Lloyd Burnard is Sport24's correspondent in Rio de Janeiro for the duration of the 2016 Olympics ...

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