Meet the 74-year-old coach whose philosophy is “you’re never too old to learn.” She is all about discipline and hard work.
South Africa’s Wayde van Neikerk has his “Super Gran” coach Anna Botha to thank for his sensational win of the Olympic 400-meter gold at Rio 2016 –smashing Michael Johnson’s 17-year-old record along the way.
Botha, a great-grandmother of four with a neat wave of white hair, told the IAAF website of her coaching convictions –and that’s the principle she applied to turning Van Niekerk into an Olympic champion. “You are never too old to learn,” she stated.
According to Botha, the 24-year-old started working with her after the last Olympic cycle in 2012 when he began his studies at the University of the Free State in Bloemfontein. She’s been the head coach of track and field there since 1990.
A former sprinter and long jumper, Botha immediately set about switching his focus from the 200m to 400m to protect him against persistent injuries, and the times steadily began to tumble.
In 2013, Van Niekerk’s best time over the one-lap sprint was 45.09 seconds; when he won his first major medal at the 2015 World Championships it had dropped to 43.48; and in Brazil, he shattered Johnson’s world record in a stunning 43.03s.
Van Niekerk credited Botha’s regime on Fox Sports after his win: “She’s really kept me very disciplined on the goal and where I need to be.
“I’m really grateful I can go on the track and say my coach has pushed me to reach every level and believe anything is possible.
“She’s an amazing woman. She’s played a huge role in what I am today.”
There may be 50 years between them but Van Niekerk and Botha have found a partnership of personalities that works.
Botha explained; “I dearly love all my athletes but it’s about being strict. I believe female coaches can offer “something different psychologically.”
“We can laugh, but when we have to work hard, we work hard,” She added.
The proud great-grandmother sat in the stands at Rio’s Olympic Stadium to watch her star pupil lead from the gun to the line, running blind in the outside lane eight, to win his first Olympic medal.