World champion sprinter Wayde van Niekerk’s girlfriend of three years, Chesney Campbell, has arrived in the Brazilian city of Rio to rally round her man.
Van Niekerk is considered one of South Africa’s major Olympic gold medal hopefuls.
His mother, Odessa, stepfather, Steven Swarts, and father Wayne, joined Campbell to cheer next to the track in Rio de Janeiro this week.
Van Niekerk (24), from Kraaifontein in Cape Town, is heavily favoured to win the 400m sprint at the Olympic Games 2016 today.
And while South Africans cheer in front of television sets countrywide, nowhere will support for the athlete be stronger than at his former school, Bellville Primary, in Cape Town’s northern suburbs.
“Wayde, you are a role model for the learners of Bellville Primary. Our learners are encouraged and motivated by your dedication and your guts,” the school said this week.
Van Niekerk’s former teacher at the school, Andre Scheffers, will also be glued to his TV watching the sprinter kick up dust.
Scheffers told City Press he would record the race and it would be screened for the school’s pupils at assembly on Monday.
“We’re so excited! Two weeks ago at assembly we got a local dominee and we prayed for Wayde. We are still praying. We will record all the races and show them at the school,” said Scheffers.
Van Niekerk’s former Grade 5 and sports teacher described the athlete as “quiet and shy” but with fierce perseverance.
“Here at Bellville Primary, Wayde put in everything. He wanted to be number one and worked for it. His father also helped him train at home.
“Both his parents are athletes. Odessa was a sprinter back in the day; apparently she was a wonderful sprinter. Wayne was a good athlete, too, and also a rugby player.”
Scheffers said he realised the boy was destined for great things in 2003 when he represented Western Province at a national athletics challenge in Polokwane.
Wayde won the 100 metres, and was crowned South Africa’s Under-11 champion.
He said Van Niekerk also played provincial under 13A cricket.
Van Niekerk moved to Bloemfontein with Odessa after his parents divorced, and there he attended Grey College.
Meanwhile, Campbell gushed over her boyfriend on Twitter: “Such a beautiful Opening Ceremony, and seeing you carrying the flag, Wayde,” she wrote, followed by heart emoticons.
Campbell (24) and van Niekerk met at the University of the Free State in Bloemfontein three years ago.
He studied marketing, while she is now a junior lecturer and is studying towards a master’s degree in sociology.
This week in Rio, Odessa gave her son what she described as “a book of encouragement” – a compilation of good luck messages from fans.
She wrote on Twitter: “So it’s finally here. So excited to see u in action. God’s blessings. Love u.”
Scheffers said it might be that Odessa’s athletics dreams were coming true through Wayde.
“Apartheid inhibited her development, you know. She progressed up to where she could.
“There was a ceiling, she couldn’t be in the Springbok team or whatever.”
Van Niekerk won gold at last year’s World Championships in Beijing.
He also set a new record earlier this year when he became the first man in history to run faster than 10 seconds in the 100m, 20 seconds in the 200m and 44 seconds in the 400m.
He’s been rubbing shoulders with the world’s best athletes in Brazil, and posted a photo of himself with Jamaican track and field sprinter Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce on Instagram.
Van Niekerk’s uncle Donovan de Vos and his wife, Lorraine, would join the family in Rio de Janeiro, reported the Daily Voice.
“We are very proud of Wayde. He didn’t let his titles go to his head. He is still the same boy who comes and visits us,” Donovan told the tabloid.