Going for gold

Meet the great-grandmother who coached a track star to a world record-breaking performance

Ans Botha, coach for South African sprinter Wayde van Niekerk, talks to reporters during media availability at the Olympic Village in Rio de Janeiro, Aug. 15, 2016. (Jeffrey Furticella/The New York Times)

Anna Sofia Botha was an unlikely face trying to break through the crowds in an attempt to get onto the track at Olympic Stadium Sunday night. Event staff turned away the 74-year-old, white-haired South African from every entrance point. Botha eventually made it there with the help of Team South Africa, as they explained that the great-grandmother trying to get on the track was actually the coach of track star Wayde van Niekerk, who had just broken the world record for the 400 meter sprint and won the gold.

“At every entrance there was security and they just wouldn’t let me go through” she said.

Crying, Botha and van Niekerk hugged on the track.

“We just hugged each other,” Botha said. “It wasn’t necessary to say anything. We knew in our hearts and in our minds what we thought and what we had achieved.”

Botha, who has coached for decades in South Africa, said that when she first began coaching van Niekerk, a “world-class athlete,” she was “a little worried” because of the responsibility she would have to coach him to his best performance — one that he surely met on Sunday in the 400 meter race. Van Niekerk, for his part, said that his elderly coach was an “amazing woman” who was tough on her athletes.

“I still love coaching and I still love my athletes,” Botha said, “so I can’t see a reason why I would go and sit down and play with my fingers. That’s not in my nature.”

Read the full story at The New York Times.


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