CAPE TOWN – Their running styles are similar, but while Odessa Swarts was denied the opportunity to compete on the international stage, seeing her son Wayde van Niekerk break records and win gold medals brings her more than enough joy.
In fact, sometimes it just gets too much – as it did during “43.03: The Wayde van Niekerk Story” documentary, which premiered at the V&A Waterfront Nu Metro cinemas on Tuesday night.
The event was attended by Van Niekerk’s family and friends, including his cousin Cheslin Kolbe and swimmer Chad le Clos, who had just flown in from London.
While speaking during the Rio Olympics, the tears start flowing as Swarts talks about her own sacrifices in her career, and now seeing Van Niekerk excelling.
On Tuesday night, the “waterworks” nearly came out again when IOL Sport asked Swarts how she felt about watching a documentary about her “Waydie”.
“Okay, I’m going to first swallow so that I don’t cry! The idea was always that he wants to leave a legacy behind, and I think this is just a stepping stone for him,” Swarts said.
“In South Africa, we have so many things happening, and to think my child can be a beacon of hope to the generation coming through – not just the youngsters, but also their parents – I mean, it just warms my heart, knowing that my child is the one that’s making the difference.”
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Swarts (née Krause) was a champion 100m and 200m sprinter in the late 1980s and early 1990s, but while her generation lost out on taking on the world due to apartheid, Van Niekerk is making up for that – big time.
The launch of a documentary of his career up to now, with that record-breaking run of 43.03 at the Rio Olympics that broke Michael Johnson’s 400m mark, is quite unusual for someone like Van Niekerk, who Swarts admits “doesn’t enjoy the limelight”.
But the 25-year-old has become a global star, and what pleases Swarts the most is the fact that the fame hasn’t changed her son.
“We have so many unspoken heroes that have laid the foundation for them today. And my wish is just that, as a parent, I’m proud of my child. But also our heroes of yesterday didn’t just leave a legacy for him, but for all South Africans,” she said.
“For all parents out there, that is the only thing that will make us proud: that our kids just go out and live their dreams, and become world champions and record-holders.
“It’s not easy (being in the public eye). He doesn’t enjoy the limelight, that’s the one bad thing about it all. But I think he has now realised that when he speaks, he gives hope to others.
“To me, what you see is what you get. He’s not just that person out in public, he’s like that in our daily lives as well.
“As a parent, that’s what makes me proud as well, knowing I’ve raised my kids to go out in the world, but still be who they are when they are in my house and nothing changes.”
His father Wayne, who was also in Rio to watch Wayde win Olympic gold, couldn’t stop smiling on Tuesday night, telling IOL Sport: “I’m very proud of him. He’s doing good in interviews, but I’m not very good in interviews!
“I loved the documentary, it’s very beautiful. I like the way they put it out, it’s good. In my view, I was a rugby player, but I knew he was going to be a runner one day because he was very tiny, thin and small.
“So I could see from day one that he was going to be a runner. I’m looking forward to seeing him run the 400m in 42 seconds. It will be great, and I can’t wait to see him on the track again.”