[intro]A lot can happen in 43.48 seconds. Wayde van Niekerk bears testimony to this after raising his national flag high to become the 400m World Champion at the IAAF World Championship in Beijing. But who is the man who wears the crown? The Journalist speaks to friends and team mates of the country’s golden boy to find out.[/intro]
The friendship between GideonTrotter, South African sprinter who specialises in the 100 metres, and Van Niekerk began a few years ago when the two were in rival high schools. According to Trotter, their friendship blossomed when they went on a trip together to the World Junior Championships in Canada.
“We started becoming close there and shared everything in common. You know when you click with someone, he likes your music and you like his”
They are currently students at the University of the Free State and are both coached by Anna Botha.
A Selfless character
Trotter describes van Niekerk as a chilled and determined person who is one of the funniest and most random people you could ever meet.
“He’s also quite conservative so, people hardly get to see him loosen up outside of practice and where we live. Professionally, he’s a hard worker. A lot of people look up to him, including myself. He’s one of the strongest people that I know,” he said.
Van Niekerk’s stepdad, Steven Swart, is one of the people he looks up to according to Trotter.
“He’s not one of those people who idolise celebrities. He actually looks up to people he lives with and respects. He is very considerate and always tries to make sure that the people around him are happy first before him,” he adds.
This characteristic triggers a memory with Wayde.
“We have a large team at practice ne, so this other girl did not have some of the basic things that one needed for training. He took out some of his stuff, brand new with the tag still on, and gave them to her. In addition, he also shared some of his money with her. I only heard afterwards that he had shared his last cents with her. He’s really deep,” Trotter said.
The victory race
Trotter, Obakeng Molopoyane and Braam van Tubbergh, who are also close friends, watched the race with close family members and other friends at van Niekerk’s family home in Bloemfontein.
“A week before the race we were predicting a 43.5 sec finish, nothing quicker than that. He actually finished quicker than that, so he absolutely smashed our predictions. He did better and we’re super proud about that,” van Tubbergh said.
On the day of the race, however, victory was guaranteed.
“From watching the semi finals I saw that he was in great shape in comparison to the other three. You could say that we were expecting the gold,” Molopoyane added.
For first year 400 m athlete, Vuyo Nomyayi, the opportunity to train with Wayde and Gideon was like a dream come true.
“I began training with them earlier this year. It’s been a passion since high school when I used to watch them on television and be truly inspired,” he said enthusiastically.
Nomyayi, whose friends nicknamed Trotter, watched the race broadcast live on big screens in the Callie Human Centre of the UFS Bloemfontein campus with fellow team mates.
“The atmosphere was phenomenal. It felt like I was there with him, feeling nervous at first and, like I was actually running with him.
There was never a doubt that he was going to take gold because he has been performing really well,” he said.
He described van Niekerk as a very humble individual who was approachable.
Prof Jansen, Vice-Chancellor and Rector of the UFS had the following to say:
“The community of the University of the Free State is so incredibly proud of our student, Wayde van Niekerk, who is now the World Champion over 400m! This is an astounding accomplishment of an exceptionally talented Gold Medalist, who has remained humble, friendly, and decent in his value system, despite rising to the top of the world. The celebrations here in Kovsieland will go on for many weeks to come, and we cannot wait for him to come home.”
Still our “Tosser”
Van Niekerk’s glorious achievement has made him the fourth-fastest athlete in the history of the event, with only Michael Johnson, Butch Reynolds, and Jeremy Wariner bettering Van Niekerk’s time.
That alone, adds on to the list of why his fellow countrymen take pride in his heritage and will celebrate and hail his name for many, many more generations to come.
“We are very proud of him. Our perceptions of him have not changed though. We’re still going to chill with him and do crazy stuff together. Most importantly though, he’s still our tosser,” Trotter manages to utter before they both break into chuckles.
I learn later that this word, one of van Niekerk’s favourites, is code to describe a guy who is super cool but dumb ass at the same time.