Wayde Van Niekerk's coach Ans Botha interviewed by journalists during the 2016 Rio Olympic Games Athletics Events media briefing at the Athletes Village Plaza in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on 15 August 2016 ©Gavin Barker/BackpagePix
Wayde Van Niekerk's coach Ans Botha interviewed by journalists during the 2016 Rio Olympic Games Athletics Events media briefing at the Athletes Village Plaza in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on 15 August 2016 ©Gavin Barker/BackpagePix
Pic 2: University of Free State athletics coach Ans Botha and Olympic gold medalist Wayde van Niekerk.
Pic 2: University of Free State athletics coach Ans Botha and Olympic gold medalist Wayde van Niekerk.
Wayde Van Niekerk's, his coach Ans Botha and Gideon Sam during the 2016 Rio Olympic Games Athletics Events media briefing at the Athletes Village Plaza in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on 15 August 2016 ©Gavin Barker/BackpagePix
Wayde Van Niekerk's, his coach Ans Botha and Gideon Sam during the 2016 Rio Olympic Games Athletics Events media briefing at the Athletes Village Plaza in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on 15 August 2016 ©Gavin Barker/BackpagePix
Wayde Van Niekerk's and his coach Ans Botha  during the 2016 Rio Olympic Games Athletics Events media briefing at the Athletes Village Plaza in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on 15 August 2016 ©Gavin Barker/BackpagePix
Wayde Van Niekerk's and his coach Ans Botha during the 2016 Rio Olympic Games Athletics Events media briefing at the Athletes Village Plaza in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on 15 August 2016 ©Gavin Barker/BackpagePix

LUNGANI ZAMA IN RIO

 Rio de Janeiro - It was reminiscent of the opening scene of the Titanic, as a flood of cameras and recorders besieged an old lady in Rio on Monday.

Only this was no ordinary Tannie, and the ship she and her star pupil are on has only just left shore.

"I'll be 75 later this year, but I have no plans to retire," Ans Botha, the Namibian-born coach who is cracking the whip behind Wayde van Niekerk smiled on Monday.

"I have no reason to retire. I'm not one of those grannies who wants to sit at home, playing with her fingers."

Why would she even think of retiring? 74 years young, 'Tannie Ans' has melted away every preconceived notion of the chemistry between coach and star athlete, as she guided Van Niekerk to Olympic gold, with a world record, nogal.

To Van Niekerk, her command is as serious as the starting gun in a major final. He was so convinced that he needed her expertise on his side, that he approached the woman who had selected him in provincial school sides to be his mentor, soon after leaving Grey College.

"I knew of him, but I didn't know him as a person when he was at school," she explained on Monday, to a throng that had come from far and wide.

The clamour had started on Sunday night, with foreign journalists perplexed by the 50-year chasm between mentor and the man of the moment.

"She's 70 -what?!," came the American enquiry.

"That is class!" came the British follow-up, as the story unfolded globally.

"She's more famous than Adam Peaty's nan (gran) now," he added.

And rightly so. If Wayde is the Dreamer, Ans Botha must surely be the Dream Factory. Asked if she had any other stars up her considerable sleeve, she casually mentioned that it's not just about Wayne.

"There are others coming through, oh yes. I've got two girls, and another boy. All sprinters," she said, matter-of-factly.

She then explained that the group had been blown away, along with the rest of the world, by their teammate's antics.

"They were going crazy! You should see the messages."

A passer-by may have thought she was a relative of Van Niekerk, caught in the excitement of it all.

But Van Niekerk knows infinitely better. Beneath the supposedly sweet veneer lies a tenacity that has spurred him and the rest of the team on to new heights.

"She is very big on discipline. Yoh! Being five minutes early is late according to her! We are all scared of being late for practice," the Olympic champion giggled, like a schoolboy well acquainted with the headmistress' office.

From the outside, it appears that the complete lack of ego - on both sides - is the single biggest strength of this incredible duo.

Van Niekerk trusts 'Tannie Ans' with his life and career. In return, she fuels his dreams with her experience, her meticulous eye and her tactical know-how.

"It was in our minds to go under 43. That is what we had planned for in training", she remarked, as she recounted the dash that smashed Michael Johnson's 17 year-old record.

The simplicity with which she dropped such a startling revelation forced some to do a double take. Who is this iron lady, armed with just a whistle and stop-watch?!

Frankie Fredericks, one of the great 100m sprinters of all time, passed through the fingers that refuse to sit at home and watch the world idly go by.

Van Niekerk is in her care now, but Botha is adamant that the future holds even more global success for South African sprinting.

"This is only the beginning for South African sprinting," she declared.

"If you go out into the rural areas, you will see some incredible talent."

It was a point worth noting, and one that the powers that be would do well to follow up on, with Ans Botha playing a key role.

She has no secret formulas, no gimmicks and no other plans but to share the rich experience of 48 years of coaching she has with her adopted country.

For now, the world wants her to share the experiences of the last 48 hours, and it is something that is all a bit new to her.

"Look at all this. I'm not used to all of this," she shrieked as journalists swarmed to her .

No one is used to this, and the magical madness of it all makes hers and Wayde van Niekerk's voyage of discovery that much more compelling.

She's the little lady who inspired the biggest night in South Africa's Olympic history.

And, at 74, her heart still wants to go on and on.

Independent Media