Wayde van Niekerk (435) wins the mens 400m finals during Day 2 of the 2016 ASA SA Senior Championships at Coetzenburg Stadium, Stellenbosch on 16 April 2016 ©Chris Ricco/BackpagePix

The dearth of woman representatives at the Rio Olympic Games may be a major concern for South Africa, but the fairer sex could play a pivotal role in the country’s success at the quadrennial showpiece next month.

A small group of woman coaches have become the driving force behind some of the country’s top track and field talent.

Chief among these crusaders is Anna ‘Tannie Ans’ Botha, who coached sprinting sensation Wayde van Niekerk to claim the world 400 metres title in Beijing last year.

Three of the four 400m hurdles representatives, including men’s national record holder LJ van Zyl and women’s ace Wenda Nel, train under Irma Reyneke in Pretoria.

On the other side of the Jukskei, Emmarie Fouche and Jenny Kingwill are responsible for moulding the country’s top vertical jumpers into Olympic medallists.

Olympic silver medallist Khotso Mokoena, Commonwealth Games silver medallist Zarck Visser, and top woman long jumper Lynique Prinsloo train under Fouche.

Kingwill steered Ruswahl Samaai to the Commonwealth Games bronze medal, and a recent continental title.

Botha, a great-grandmother of four, has been shaping Van Niekerk since early 2013, with the star athlete blossoming into the best sprinting star in the country.

Former 200 metres world champion Frankie Fredericks of Nambia is among the athletes who have trained under Botha in her almost 50 years of coaching.

These coaches are known to be meticulous in their planning, and compassionate yet strict with the athletes.

Athletes aren’t an easy breed to deal with. It is advisable to have a thick skin when dealing with some of the top talent.

Fouche has seen two of her top talents leave, only to welcome them back as prodigal sons.

Mokoena recently returned to Fouche after a stint away proved to be detrimental going into his fourth Olympics.

At the recent African Athletics Championships in Durban, Mokoena posted a season best of 16.77m, and attributed his improved form to Fouche’s influence.

“That was much, much better,” Mokoena said.

“(I was) training alone after I left Emmarie and two weeks ago I went back and now we are jumping well again.

“We have a good understanding, and Emmarie is the one who will take me to the Olympic final.”

Reyneke has also played a role in breathing new life into Van Zyl’s career, with the 2011 world bronze medallist clocking his fastest time in five years, 48.67 at the World Challenge meeting in Ostrava, Czech Republic, in May.

While these coaches can sometimes be stern, they are also nurturing, with Samaai describing Kingwill as “a mother”.

“(Kingwill) is a mother, a coach, she is everything thrown into one - we have a really good relationship, Samaai said.

In a male-dominant coaching world, these women are doing great work to bring about parity.

One can only hope they will be able to inspire a new generation of woman coaches and that their examples will lead to more women becoming involved in the sport. - Saturday Star