From spectator to potential Olympian: Wayde’s sister Kayla is poised for Paris

By Karien Jonckheere

Kayla Swarts was just 13 years old when she sat trackside as her brother, Wayde van Niekerk, stormed to a new 400m world record on his way to Olympic gold in Rio.

Little could she imagine that eight years later she’d be on the brink of becoming an Olympian herself as part of the South African women’s hockey team.

The final squad for the Paris Games is yet to be announced but the 21-year-old is very much in the mix for selection.

“It would honestly be a dream come true, to represent my country and family at the biggest sporting event in history,” Swarts told Modern Athlete. “The fact that I’ll be sharing this moment with my brother would just make it so much more special.

“Thinking back to the moment of watching him in Rio set the 400m world record and seeing the joy on his and my parents’ faces and what that made me feel made me realise that this is a moment that I’d strive to experience one day,” she added.

Speaking more about that moment in Rio when Van Niekerk stunned his rivals from lane eight by taking the gold in 43.03 seconds, Swarts added: “When my brother broke the record I was in the stadium right across the finish line. The moment felt so surreal. I kept watching the clock because he just kept going faster and faster. I thought: is my brother really about to break the record? We were all so proud of him.”

While Van Niekerk will be back on the track at the Stade de France in Paris, looking to complete a triumphant comeback after a tough few years, Swarts will hopefully be making her mark at the Yves du Manoir hockey stadium some 10km away.

Preparations with the team are on track, with the South Africans feeling positive about the mammoth task ahead. “We’ve just spent six weeks training and playing a few practice matches in India and China. This period has been a massive step in the right direction for the team, not only physically but mentally as well.

“We spent a lot of time working with Kate Wright, a sport psychologist, to focus on individual and team strengths and culture which is something I think will be a huge asset for us at the Olympic Games.”

Van Niekerk has also shared a fair bit of advice with his younger sister.

“My brother always emphasises enjoying the sport, finding the joy and beauty in every opportunity I get to represent my country because your sporting career is limited.

“He also advises me to be present and not get stuck on what didn’t work out. The way we see it is that there is no failure in sport – some days it’s your turn to win, some days it’s someone else’s turn, that’s sport. Losing is simply just a building block towards success, it’s an opportunity to evaluate where you can be better and learn from that.

“He’s played an integral role in helping me prepare physically and mentally for the Olympics… Competing at the highest level can often get lonely and hard but knowing that I’ve got someone in my corner who’s overcoming similar obstacles and battles, who’s already been to two Olympic Games and shares advice is truly a blessing and not something many people are privileged to have.”

The SA side will come up against Australia, Argentina, Great Britain, Spain and the United States in the group stage of the Olympic hockey tournament in Paris which runs from 27 July to 9 August.