Wayde Van Niekerk's and his coach Ans Botha during the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. Picture: Gavin Barker/BackpagePix
Wayde Van Niekerk's and his coach Ans Botha during the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. Picture: Gavin Barker/BackpagePix

Has Wayde van Niekerk made the right call to leave Tannie Ans?

By Ashfak Mohamed Time of article published Feb 23, 2021

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CAPE TOWN - Wayde van Niekerk has made a big call to leave the training group of his coach Tannie Ans Botha and prepare for the Olympics in the United States. Only time will tell if he has made the right decision.

When he made the announcement, Van Niekerk was full of praise for Botha in his statement and subsequent tweets, using the words “amazing” and “gratitude” for her contribution, adding that she would always be his mentor.

But he was also adamant that he needed to be “training alongside the world’s best sprinters” in order to break the world record, which is what he will be doing by joining the training group of 200m American star Noah Lyles and 400m women’s Olympic champion Shaunae Miller-Uibo of the Bahamas.

It’s an image we will never forget – after Van Niekerk shocked the world with his record-breaking 400m run at the Rio Olympics, the grey-haired figure of Tannie Ans was in the stands.

She had watched her protege conquering the globe with his remarkable run of 43.03 seconds, which eclipsed Michael Johnson’s long-standing mark of 43.18.

The situation was one of a grandmother and her favourite grandson, which was not far-fetched, seeing that Botha had moulded Van Niekerk into the superstar he became, despite being 74-years-old then.

But since then, it’s been a tough time for the cousin of Springbok wing Cheslin Kolbe.

Ironically, it was a touch rugby match that set the wheels in motion for a disappointing last few years that have seen Van Niekerk miss out on world championships, and he may have sat out of the Tokyo Olympics too if it had taken place last year.

All the while, Botha has been by his side, like she was in his formative years. Mostly strict, not letting him get carried away with the shorter sprints, and remaining focused on defending his 400m title … And even thinking of the unthinkable – a sub-43 second time.

It is a step into the unknown for Van Niekerk. He is not conducting media interviews at this stage following his announcement last Friday, and has been cagey about details such as when he intends to arrive in Claremont, Florida to join his new coach

Lance Brauman, as well as when he will be back on the track again.

There will be a South African season of some sort in the next few months, which normally concludes with the national championships in mid-April, but it is unclear if Van Niekerk will participate in any local competitions – although he has posted videos and pictures of him training in Bloemfontein over the last few weeks.

But there is a bigger picture for the 28-year-old than just changing his coach. After the struggles of the last few years, perhaps it’s time for him to get out of his comfort zone of Bloemfontein and Botha.

A beaming Kolisi, resplendent in his newly issued Sharks casual wear, said he felt like a kid starting his first day of school. Photo: Howard Cleland/The Sharks

Almost like Bok rugby captain Siya Kolisi’s move to the Sharks, Van Niekerk needs a fresh challenge, and needs to be tested seriously on the track once more, which local races and training groups don’t provide.

Being in the US will also elevate his personal profile as a current Olympic champion.

But it is all about being pushed to the limit in his preparation and competition, and that is what he hopes Florida will give.

And guess who is waiting for Van Niekerk in the US?

The man who has run the fastest 400m time since the Rio Olympics, Michael Norman, a 23-year-old American with a time of 43.45.

@ashfakmohamed

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