Sun, Aug 06, 2017 - Page 11 News List

Tannie Ans, the supercoach great-grandma of five

Reuters, LONDON

Ans Botha’s transformation from one minute being a 75-year-old cooing over her 10-month-old great-grandson to the next playing “supercoach” to the greatest new talent in athletics is one of sport’s more extraordinary makeovers.

However, as Wayde van Niekerk yesterday ran the 400m heats at the World Athletics Championships in London, eyeing more athletics landmarks, he did not want anyone but this “amazing woman” to be guiding him.

Botha has three children, five grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

South African Van Niekerk says he teases his Namibian mentor for her stubborn ways and Botha gives him old-fashioned looks about his blaring music.

“She’s strict,” Van Niekerk said, yet their relationship clearly comes with deep affection, trust and respect.

It has worked famously in the five years since Van Niekerk enrolled at the University of the Free State in Bloemfontein and asked to join the training group of Botha, their athletics coach of 25 years.

Under her tutelage, not only has he become a world record breaker and Olympic champion at the 400m, clocking 43.03 seconds in Rio last year, but also the only man ever to break 10 seconds for the 100m, 20 seconds for the 200m and 44 seconds for the 400m.

In London, he could become the first man since Michael Johnson in 1995 to achieve the 200m-400m double at the world championships.

Botha said that, like the rest of her training group, she cannot help but see Van Niekerk like one of her “children.”

From schoolchildren to veterans, they all call her “Tannie Ans” — Auntie Ans in Afrikaans.

After a fifty-year self-taught coaching career which began back in Namibia when she could not find a coach for her daughter, Botha, once a long jumper and sprinter herself, said: “In a way, it’s a really difficult experience for me at 75.”

“It is physically demanding at my age, but I enjoy it. I’m walking a lot and then stretching. I’ve found when you have the enthusiasm and the love and passion for something, it’s no big issue,” she said. “I’m just so blessed and am so grateful to do the things I love at my time of life.”

Van Niekerk also feels blessed to have her guiding him.

“She’s an amazing woman,” he said. “I don’t think she’s as scary as some people think, but she is a tough lady.”

“Once you step on the wrong side then you can find it’s quite difficult to win her over. I haven’t stepped over that mark, but I do like to tease her which she is not used to,” he said.

The ageless Botha loves guiding Van Niekerk, but what does she prefer — being the perfect coach or the perfect great-grandma?

“I think it’s both. When I have the opportunity to be with my family, I try to make it really, really quality time,” she said before adding with a glint in her eyes: “Yet when I’m busy coaching, I have a one-track mind.”

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