This Great-Grandmother Coaches an Olympic Champion. Now Let Her By.

Tears were shed, she said. “We just hugged each other,” Botha said. “It wasn’t necessary to say anything. We knew in our hearts and in our minds what we thought and what we had achieved.”

Before the night was over, another of Bloemfontein’s athletes, Akani Simbine, had finished fifth in the 100 meters. A day later, Botha said, “I’m still struggling to let it sink in. It’s so unreal and unbelievable.”

This is Botha’s first Olympics. She competed — without distinction, she said — in the sprints and the long jump when she was young and began coaching in 1968 while living in her native Namibia, then a territory under the rule of South Africa. Her first athletes were her son and daughter, but when they reached a certain level, she passed them off to other coaches, she said, “because I feel that’s not always a good thing as a parent to coach your own children.”

The woman who didn’t believe it prudent to coach her own children has earned the trust of her athletes by treating them as family.

“She doesn’t see us as athletes or as people; she sees us as her children,” said van Niekerk, who asked Botha in late 2012 if he could train under her at…

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