Athletics coverage even trumps the Disney channel in the home of former track stars Mathew and Heide Quinn, Gasant Abarder discovers.
Cape Town - There were two sets of eyes keenly watching as Wayde van Niekerk won the 400m final of the IAAF World Championships in Beijing on Wednesday. t
And when Van Niekerk crossed the finish line to cause an upset and claim his rightful title as gold medallist, you would have had to look hard to find two people who were more ecstatic.
Meet Mathew, a Durban boy, and Heide Quinn, born and raised in PE.
Both are former track stars who represented South Africa at the Olympics, the World Championships and the African Championships. And they have both won gold medals to boot.
Mat, 39, is a former 100m and 200m specialist and gold medallist in the 4x100m relay at the 2001 World Championships. He represented South Africa at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney.
Heide, 39, who competed under her maiden name Seyerling, was a gold medallist at the 2006 African Championships in the 4x400m relay and a two-time Olympian in Sydney 2000 and Athens 2004.
If there is athletics on TV then don’t bother to visit the Quinn household on a Saturday if you’re a football fan. You’ll battle to see any of the matches, even though Mat is a committed Liverpool fan (his only flaw as far as I can tell). They are absolute athletics fanatics. They’ll watch track and field all day and record it so they can relive the moments over and over again.
Mat often chastises me about the lack of athletics coverage in the Cape Argus so I was happy to oblige by splashing Van Niekerk’s feat on the front page of both editions of the newspaper on Thursday.
Mat was in Potchefstroom on Thursday and stopped over at a pub just in time to watch Anaso Jobodwana win bronze in the 200m for South Africa – just behind Usain Bolt of Jamaica in first place and Justin Gatlin of the US in second.
Mat is probably Bolt’s biggest fan – I’ve seen pictures of him doing the trademark Bolt pose – so it was satisfying for him to see Jobodwana do well on the world’s biggest stage and among the world’s best.
“I think there’s this amazing group of young athletes in South Africa who are hungry for success. We haven’t had it so good in athletics for the last couple of years. And now we have this group who are hungry, they’re excited.
“They just want to run as fast as they can, as hard as they can to get the sport up and running again in South Africa. That’s how passionate they are.”
Heide says: “Athletics trumps everything, it even trumps the Disney channel in our house. The girls know. When I got home yesterday my daughters both sat and watched Wayde’s 400m race with me,” says Heide.
“It was awesome. I get excited and it brings back old memories. We’re happy for the guys and we want more. We want them to do well. When we watch, my daughters only want our guys to get medals.
“Thank heavens my girls didn’t watch me run back then.”
It was a case of like and like attracting for the Quinns. Mat and Heide met at an athletics meet in 1999, fell in love and later got married. They lived for a short while in Durban, then in PE, before making Cape Town their home until recently. Now they live in Joburg with their two daughters – Kaitlyn, 5, and Genevieve, 2.
The reason that I bring up the subject of their children is because on Thursday morning, on Kieno Kammies’s breakfast show on Cape Talk, UCT Professor Malcolm Collins confirmed that parents who are athletes were likely to have children who also may enjoy athletic success. He said that despite an earlier theory, recent research showed that the offspring tended to inherit the sporting genes.
Both Van Niekerk’s parents were accomplished track and field stars (and his cousin is Western Province fullback Cheslin Kolbe).
However, Collins gave warning that the athlete, no matter who the parents were, still had to put in the hard yards.
Sporting family success is a common feature in cricket and rugby in this country. Think Shaun and Peter and Graeme Pollock. Or Schalk Burger senior and junior. Then there’s Gysie and Ruan Pienaar and Hennie and Andries Bekker.
But in athletics it is something Van Niekerk has in common with the Quinn girls, Kaitlyn and Genevieve. Their mom and dad come from the finest stock in athletics.
“Mat and I said we were going to push them into tennis or golf – there’s more money in that,” Heide jokes.
“But seriously, we said we’re not going to put the pressure on them because we were athletes. If they want to run we’ll support them in that. But we’re not pushing them into something.
“If you give my girls a bike or tell them to run they’d rather run.
“They know how we feel about athletics and they know we watch it and when we watch the 100m events I have to tell the neighbours that we’re fine because Mat will be shouting his head off and they’ll be thinking something is wrong.
“I have to tell the neighbours, ‘No it’s OK, we’re all fine.’ But my girls know how excited we get because they see it.”
Mat adds: “I buy into the professor’s theory. I think as an athlete everyone has certain traits. I was a sprinter, Heide was a sprinter and we were good at it.
“Obviously our bodies would adapt to that and our kids are going to have those genes coming through them.
“Having said that, we put no pressure on our kids. We don’t have a single photograph up in the house of our track days. My world championship medal is in a box in the garage.
“We want our kids to grow up and be able to make their choices of what they want to do. If they want to do sports we’ll back them 110 percent, but if they want to do ballet or play piano we’ll back them in exactly the same way.
“I see it in our kids that they are competitive already. They race around the park with their friends and they are already definitely very competitive.
“I think Kaitlyn and Genevieve both inherited that competitive streak from us. So yes, I do agree with that statement by the professor.”
These days Mat earns a living as a marketing guru in a business closely associated with sport.
Heide has dabbled in the hospitality sector, running her family’s wedding venue business. At the moment, she is a full-time mom running the Quinn household. But she says that very soon she and Mat will put all their energy into a schools athletics project with an eye on developing the next generation of South African track and field stars.
Mat says: “When you start watching this kind of athletics and with the vibe out there, with the spirit of the people, watching this race – it’s really exciting.
“I was sitting in Potchefstroom watching this race with Jobodwana winning bronze. I literally got the pub manager to change the channel so that I could watch the race,” says Mat.
“Then there was a whole crowd watching this and just to see how these kids and parents got excited about this race just shows you there is huge appreciation for our guys.
“We have a chance to get to the kids out there and get them back into athletics. Athletics is still good and strong at school level and we have to take that and make sure we build the sport again because it is literally at rock-bottom at the moment.
“We have to build it up and show people there is an opportunity out there for them to perform.”
Mat says that based on comments on social media in the wake of Van Niekerk’s 400m triumph, it looked as though people thought it was easy to do 40 or so seconds of running at pace to be the world’s best.
But he says it is anything but, and he has a deep sense of appreciation for the hard work that went into Van Niekerk’s achievement.
“By doing this, you’re dedicating your life to it. It’s like a full-time job,” he says.
“What people say does irritate me because these guys work hard: they’re in the gym, they’re on the track, they sacrifice by travelling to Europe to compete.
“If you had to compare it to a business, you work in a 9 to 5 job and this world championship is your pitch. You have an opportunity to pitch for business, you prepare for it, you do your presentation and you eventually win that pitch.
“That’s exactly what this is.
“These guys are working just as hard as the 9 to 5 people, sitting in an office and working for a business contract. These guys go out and train.
“Yes, they might go out on a Sunday night, or go to the gym, which everyone thinks is nice, but they work hard. These guys push their bodies to the limit and they prepare to a point where Wayde could have been out by a week and we wouldn’t be celebrating this because he got his timing slightly wrong.
“This is an amazing piece of work between all the athletes and their coaches – to get them to peak perfectly for the World Championships.”
* Gasant Abarder is editor of the Cape Argus.