Wayde van Niekerk says it is his 75-year-old supergran coach who has made him into a world star

Wayde van Niekerk says it is his 75-year-old supergran coach who has made him into a world star

It was amusing to note on Wednesday that when the heir to the throne of athletics was holding court, an elderly lady was 10 yards away in the Olympic Park and showed only the slightest bit of interest.

She nodded briefly when Wayde van Niekerk said world records were more important here than gold medals in the 400m and 200m, but she switched off completely when it was put to him that Usain Bolt sees the South African as the next superstar of the sport.

She was even less interested in his thoughts on one day conquering the 100m.

But that is the way it is with this rather odd and entirely brilliant couple.

Van Niekerk is the only man in history to have gone under 44sec in the 400m, 20sec in the 200m and 10sec in the 100m, and Ans Botha is a 75-year-old great grandmother with white hair and a temper who doubles as his coach.

They joined up five years ago when Van Niekerk was merely the South African No 1 across 200m and arrived in London this week with the 25-year-old the reigning Olympic and world champion at 400m.

That journey was on his mind on Wednesday, as he detailed how a fascinating relationship built on differences might well yield a sprint double in the coming fortnight.

‘In general she is a lovely lady,’ he said.

‘She knows me as an athlete and I know her, but when it comes to our characteristics, we definitely have our differences. Definitely.’

The stories go that Botha, a sprinter of little distinction in her own day, can be a fearsome stickler for rules who rages any kind of indiscipline.

Van Niekerk said: ‘I have known her a while so I don’t think she is quite as scary as people think, but obviously being at the age she is at, she is fixed on a lot of her ways.

‘She is someone who finds it very important that you approach her with respect and love.

‘If you do, you can win her heart quite easily but once she finds anything disrespectful then you will really find it difficult.

‘I wouldn’t say I have stepped on the wrong side but I do tease her quite a bit and that is something she has had to get used to.

‘We have differences but it works. I come to training and I put my music on loud and she will give me a look, ‘What are you listening to?’

‘But first we are athlete and coach and then we can become everything else.

‘I enjoy working with her and don’t see myself moving from her any time soon. It works.’

For Botha, the level of success was not anticipated. ‘I could never imagine getting all this attention,’ she said.

‘When we started together there were so many problems. He was still a boy but I’ve seen Wayde growing not just physically but mentally.

‘Now we are here. It is a blessing. Next we want two golds to take home to South Africa – we aren’t working for second or third.’

Their track-record suggests they might well get their way.

Van Niekerk’s extraordinary world record run of 43.03sec in the 400m was one of the performances of the Rio Olympics and his 200m personal best of 19.84sec, produced in June, is the second fastest in the world this year.

His face off in an event featuring behind Isaac Makwala, Andre de Grasse and Yohan Blake has huge potential.

From there, his management told Sportsmail that they would like to see him take an exploratory tilt at the 100m in the 2018 Commonwealth Games.

Who would bet against the odd couple pulling it off?


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