JOHANNESBURG – Proving to be the epitome of perseverance, Tannie Ans Botha will be honoured at the IAAF’s annual awards evening in Monaco on November 24, less than a month before her 76th birthday.
Botha has been elevated to international stardom over the last few years thanks to her work as a coach to world 400m record-holder and Olympic champion Wayde van Niekerk.
“It is, of course, an incredible honour and I am so grateful to receive this kind of accolade at this stage of my life,” Botha said, confirming that she would receive an award from the athletics body.
“I am humbled to be able to receive these kinds of awards, there is a lot of emotion involved with this kind of announcement.”
Botha has been working with the wunderkind of South African since 2012, with Van Niekerk reaching unprecedented heights in global athletics.
She has been the architect behind Van Niekerk’s success which includes double world 400m titles, an Olympic gold medal, and the world record in the one-lap sprint.
The 75-year-old said she would not have been able to reach the pinnacle of the sport without a sense of perseverance and patience.
“With athletics, you always have to keep your focus on the long-term as there are many low points along the way,” Botha said.
“You have to be prepared for injuries and illness which sets you back and I’ve seen it with Thuso Mpuang for instance where it took us five years to get him from starting out in athletics to where I got him to a level winning national titles and qualifying for the Olympics.”
Botha and Van Niekerk have experienced the peaks and troughs of international sport, where she had taken the phenom from an injury-prone athlete with immense potential to one of the greatest sprinters in the world.
With the injuries that have dogged him in his early years finally in the past, the duo has been on a worldwide crusade since 2014 conquering the track meeting at a time.
Their good run of the last three years has come to a screeching halt, after Van Niekerk sustained medial and lateral tears of the meniscus, as well as a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in a celebrity Tag Rugby match in October.
Van Niekerk faces a long recovery and rehabilitation before he can make his return to the track after going under the knife in the United States two weeks ago.
Although the injury comes as a major blow to both mentor and protégé, Botha is a chronic optimist, believing her charge would be back stronger and faster.
“These setbacks cross your path and one learns how to deal with these kinds of disappointments, it is extremely difficult to process, I can’t deny it,” Botha said.
“But it is important to put it behind you as soon as possible, and strive to create something even more positive out of this negative situation.
“It took us five years to get Wayde to record the times he has been running over the last two seasons or so.”
Van Niekerk is currently in the United States as part of the first phase of his rehabilitation, ahead of his return to South Africa for a short stint before travelling to Doha to Dr Louis Holtzhausen for the second part.
“Wayde and I have a strong bond where we have faith in a higher power, a God that has guided our lives over the last five years,” Botha said.
“The operation was a success, Wayde is improving very well, but my first name over the next few weeks and months will be ‘Patience’.”