Superstar Wayde van Niekerk’s dazed but delighted family returned home to a hero’s welcome yesterday.
But fans were left disappointed when they didn’t see the 400m Olympic gold medallist at the Cape Town International Airport with his parents, grandparents, girlfriend and other relatives.
Wayde, who smashed a world record at the Rio Olympics on Monday morning, flew 10 relatives to Brazil to support him in the stands.
His dad Wayne said the 24-year-old champ has gone to Europe first and will arrive in South Africa “in the next few weeks”.
“He has first gone to Italy [where he trains for six months of the year] to sort out some athletics-related business, then he will come home,” Wayne tells the Daily Voice.
The dad jokingly adds: “The paparazzi is following him everywhere.”
After all the excitement in Rio, the family looked moeg after the eight-hour flight when they landed on home soil yesterday morning.
But they couldn’t stop talking about Wayde’s amazing win, which made global headlines.
The Kraaifontein-born athlete won the 400 m men’s final in 43.03 seconds, smashing a 17-year old record set by the legendary Michael Johnson in 1999, taking SA’s first and only gold medal so far.
Wayde blew away hot favourites, Kirani James from Grenada and the US’ LaShawn Merritt, while men’s 100m champ Usain Bolt melted hearts when he stopped an interview to congratulate Wayde.
Wayde’s ouma Sophia van Niekerk, 67, says she will never forget that magical moment when Wayde crossed the finishing line.
“Everyone was shouting ‘Wayde dis jou race’, and then suddenly there came absolute silence over that huge stadium. Jy kon ’n speld hoor val.
“When I looked down to the timing board, I knew why everyone was shocked into silence. Me and Tannie Ans [Botha, Wayde’s trainer] could only stare at each other in amazement.”
Wayde’s aunt Alnisha van Niekerk says everyone was crying.
“It was a wonderful moment when the whole stadium got to their feet to honour the new champ from Kraaifontein,” she says.
His excited girlfriend Chesney, 24, says Wayde’s dream of being world champion came true.
“He worked really hard for it,” she says.
His stepdad Steven Swarts, 40, believes being there for Wayde made a big difference.
“He looked up to the stand before every race, I believe seeing his family there gave him extra woema,” he says.
Proud mom Odessa Swarts, 42, adds: “We want to thank the whole of South Africa who supported our child.”