Cape Town - After going out hard and pulling clear down the home straight to smash the world 400m record in Rio on Monday, Wayde van Niekerk went back to the hotel to celebrate with his family, while his fellow Olympians were also out celebrating his victory.
This is a testament to his humility, his family said from Rio on Monday.
The Olympic champion, the first sprinter to win a gold medal for South Africa since 1920, made history, taking 0.15 seconds off the world record set by American Michael Johnson in 1999.
After the historical race Johnson told the BBC, where he works as an analyst: “I have never seen anything like that.
“It is amazing. That was a massacre by Van Niekerk. This young man has done something truly special. He could go under 43 seconds - I tried and failed.”
Wayde had held off Olympic Games defending champion Kirani James, of Grenada, who took second place, by 0.73 seconds for a comfortable victory.
Wayde grew up in Kraaifontein before moving to Bloemfontein in 2005, where he now lives with his mother and stepfather.
His stepfather, Steven Swarts, said the race coincided with Father’s Day in Brazil and he could not have asked for a better gift.
“After the race all the athletes went out to celebrate together, but Wayde came back to the hotel with his family. We were up until the next morning, talking, drinking coffee. That family time after the race was priceless.”
Wayde’s mother, Odessa Swarts, a champion athlete herself who did not participate internationally during the apartheid era, said it was God’s plan that she had raised a record-breaking athlete instead of being an Olympian herself.
“It’s a question I always avoid: Does your son’s success make up for the opportunities you lost?’ That’s not how I look at it.
“This greatness was not meant for my era. It’s meant for this generation. I am so grateful that I have had the opportunity to raise a wonderful son and be with him throughout his career,” Odessa said.
“The thing that hurts me the most is youngsters who waste their talents by choosing a life of crime and doing drugs.
“South Africa needs moments like this to give hope to young people to do better and lead a better life. I want people to know this achievement is possible with hard work,” she said.
Wayde’s biological father, Wayne van Niekerk, said there was lots more to come from his son.
Still overcome with emotion, Wayne struggled to express his feelings on Monday.
“He has made history and even he can’t believe it yet. He is an exceptionally driven and humble young man,” Wayne said.
Wayde flew 10 of his loved ones to Brazil especially for the race.
In a statement released by Athletics South Africa (ASA), he is quoted as saying: “I’d love to tell you guys more, but I honestly can’t remember the race. I’ll have to go back and watch it on television.
“All I know is that I left it all out there tonight. I left it in God’s hands here at a challenging Olympics.
“What I can remember is that I thought someone would catch me. It was quite lonely out there and I thought what’s going on?’. But I kept on pushing and even dived a bit for the finish line.
“When I saw the time, I was really amazed. I went out there for any medal tonight, just wanted top three. I got that, a world record, lifetime best, wow. It was just so great to have my family here and to witness it.
“It’s just so unreal, I don’t even think I was in that race tonight, I even had the chance to do a victory lap!”
ASA president Aleck Skhosana said Wayde’s win was an indication of the strides South Africa had made in making sport inclusive.
Skhosana on Monday remembered Nelson Mandela and other Struggle heroes who fought for freedom and democracy.
He said Wayde’s coach, a 74-year-old grandmother, Anna “Tannie Ans” Botha, showed what could happen if people of different races worked together.
“When we unify like that, great things can happen,” Skhosana said.
Wayde is studying marketing at the University of the Free State (UFS). Vice-chancellor and rector Jonathan Jansen said Wayde’s win was by far the greatest achievement of any UFS student in 114 years.
“And that he broke one of the world’s toughest athletic records with his trademark grace and humility makes him a role model to millions of South African youth.
“The UFS congratulates Wayde and his youthful coach, our own Tannie Ans,” Jansen said.