Wednesday 26 August 2015 was a day to savour: The day South Africa’s Wayde van Niekerk blew away a world-class field in the men’s 400m at the World Track and Field Championships in Beijing.
While not taking the shine off him, his mother Odessa Swarts (née Krause) was an exceptional track athlete in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
His father, Wayne van Niekerk, was a high jumper at high school.
Odessa Krause’s brilliant career started at Ned Doman High School in Athlone. She completed her schooling at Scottsville High in Kraaifontein, Cape Town.
During sports isolation, Odessa set Athlone Stadium on fire with her performances in the 100m and 200m. She blazed to provincial records in both the 100m and 200m on the grass track – against Cape Town’s infamous South Easter.
Following her top-notch performances at the inter-schools and champ of champs meetings, Odessa ran through the Western Province (WP) schools team, clubs and South African (SA) schools and clubs, mercilessly setting records in the 100m and 200m. Only the elements and the record books were her rivals – an absolutely dominant sprinter.
By the time Odessa quit athletics, and South Africa entered democracy, she held more than six sprint records spread across high schools and clubs at both provincial and national levels.
WATCH: Wayde’s parents share his story
In 1990, she held the WP senior schools record for girls under 16 in the 100m (12.41s) and 200m (25.84s) respectively. That year, Odessa equalled Maureen van der Ross’ SAAAB junior ladies 100m record of 21.1s at the UWC Stadium. In the 200m, she broke Van der Ross’ 200m record of 25.3s when she clocked 25.0s.
She also held the WP senior schools record for girls under-17 in the 100m (12.32s) and 200m (25.67s) in 1991 respectively.
In 1991, she held the SA schools 100m record of 12.3s, together with Qanita Nazier, Shamiela Jordan and one of the great sprint champions, Sandra Petersen.
However, Odessa was the sole record holder of the SA schools girls’ under-17 200m event.
Her time was 25.3s set at the SA schools meeting held on the Paarl clay track in 1991.
For good measure, she anchored the 4x100m relay to an SA schools record of 50.1s.
Odessa was truly a talented speedster to behold – she had a real presence on the track.
Despite all her accomplishments, the young athlete was never tempted by big corporate sponsors and the prospect of competing at Coetzenburg Stadium in Stellenbosch, the track and hallowed arena of athletics in apartheid South Africa. As the country was already isolated from the international sports world, it would not have changed anything.
She has sacrificed everything, but now her son Wayde is reaping the rewards on the international stage for her and all South Africans to enjoy.