Wayde van Niekerk gold (Gallo Images)
Cape Town – Stick to Bloemfontein as your base for the time being, invest your expected, abundant new riches wisely … and be wary of social media interactions.
That’s the advice to South Africa’s athletic wunderkind, Wayde van Niekerk, from someone well-versed in ascending to relatively “instant” celebrity, double Olympic and Commonwealth Games gold-medallist Ryk Neethling.
The now 38-year-old became a natural multi-media favourite
with his good looks, classic swimmer’s physique and lifestyle or
clothing-angled magazine shoots.
Marketing director nowadays at Val de Vie luxury estate near Paarl, Neethling spoke at length to Sport24 soon after his trip to the Rio Olympics.
Acknowledging that compatriot Van Niekerk, who eclipsed Michael Johnson’s long-time 400m world record en route to the gold medal, would accumulate hitherto unmatched personal wealth, Neethling said: “Here’s a way to put his (commercial) potential into perspective: the night before Wayde ran, I was at a party and Johnson was there.
“It was 20 years after he ran in Atlanta and broke that record, but there was still a definite buzz when he walked in … ‘look, Michael Johnson’s here’.
“And I mean, Wayde smashed his record. So I think he has unlimited (marketability) potential; I like his brand, the humbleness. If that’s going to translate … I reckon it will.
“He doesn’t need to get finance-wise himself, so much; it will be more about appointing right people to do it for him.
“I think he just needs to focus on running as fast as he can and investing cleverly … don’t invest in any start-ups; just be conservative for now. Don’t splurge on cars, gleaming motorbikes, boats.”
Neethling says he fancies the 24-year-old to do just that, but warns of other potential pitfalls.
“Social media is also a relevant issue these days … I mean, when I won (Olympic gold at Athens 2004) there was just about none of it; it is so instant now.
“You have to be careful in Twitter interaction, for instance, of people who can be weird, or brave behind fake names. It has its challenges.”
Bloemfontein-born himself, Neethling says it will be a “benefit” to the Capetonian if he keeps the quiet inland city as his base for the moment.
“I see that as a positive. I can’t be sure, but I wouldn’t see why he would leave ‘Bloem’ over the next three or four years, say.
“His coach (‘Tannie’ Ans Botha) is there and she is his rock. My advice would be to keep things as they are right now.
“Look, she may be a much-reported ‘grandma’ and obviously getting on in life, but she’s no soft touch and will stay a key influence (for Van Niekerk).
“She held her own talking to the New York Times, on her feet talking to everyone for hours (after Van Niekerk’s stirring success). I was there when they asked her some very leading political questions, about Wayde’s race, her own background.
“And she put them in their place. She’s a formidable woman.”
Neethling believes Van Niekerk won’t fully appreciate the magnitude of his Rio achievement for another eight years or thereabouts, at career’s end.
“When you are on the (global athletics itinerary) you are already thinking about next Diamond League races, World Championships, the Commonwealth Games. He just wants to get faster; he wants to get below 43 (seconds).
“But yes, your life changes so much; people treat you differently. You’ve suddenly got hundreds of new relatives and friends coming out of the woodwork, demanding little things of you.
“Not necessarily money, but they want you to attend a particular event, talk to this person, that child. In the beginning it’s nice, because you’ve never had it before, but it also becomes quite draining after a while.
“Some people, if you don’t have a strong support system, it can become very lonely – you become isolated, unsure of who to trust.”
*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing. More post-Olympics thoughts from Ryk Neethling will be published on Sport24 during this week