The secret weapon behind the new 400-meter world record holder A 74-year-old great-grandmother 
– Words: Bianca Agenbag 



17 years ago the world watched as US star athlete, Michael Johnson, made history completing the 400m race in 43.18 sec. On Sunday history was rewritten and again the world was left in awe as 24-year-old South African sprinter, Wade van Niekerk, crushed the long-standing record with a whopping 0.15 seconds. His incredible winning time of 43.03 sec also marked the first time anyone has won an Olympic gold medal in the men’s 400m from lane eight, in almost 100 years!


However, shortly after Van Niekerk became the world’s fastest runner spanning 400 meters, the story of his unconventional coach spread like wildfire, for an Olympian that receives coaching from a great-grandmother is certainly unheard of (and must be record breaking in its own league).


Van Niekerk met his 74 year “young” coach Anna Botha or “Tannie Ans” as he affectionately refers to her, in 2012 when he enrolled at the University of the Free State where she was the track coach. They have been working together ever since and in the span of four years Botha has turned Van Niekerk into not only a world champion but also a record-breaking Olympic champion.


Botha who is 50 years (half a century) Van Niekerk’s peer has been coaching track and field since the 1960s, and although she is a great-grandmother of four she still oozes the energy of a teenager, has the skills of a seasoned coach and knowledge that can only come with age.


Van Niekerk paid tribute to his coach by saying “She kept me very disciplined and focused on the goal and where I needed to be. She’s an amazing woman and played a huge role in what I am today.”


Now that is a first, not only for South Africa but the world!

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