Speed queen Odessa lights up athletics scene


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 Swarts and WP teammate Stephen Cloete
The young sprint champion Odessa Krause and WP teammate Stephen Cloete.

Odessa Krause’s brilliant career started at Ned Doman High School in Athlone. She completed her schooling at Scottsville High in Kraaifontein, Cape Town. She was a member of the Athlone-based Spartans Amateur Athletics Club, a club that had produced many top-class athletes since 1971 until 1994.

During sports isolation, Odessa set Athlone Stadium on fire with her sizzling hot 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, a strong wind that blows away the city’s smog during the summer months.

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 weather 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.

Odessa Krause
Odessa Krause (married Swarts), running in Western Province colours, is in full flow in the junior ladies 100m at the University of the Western Cape’s athletics track in 1990.

In 1990, she held the WP senior schools record for girls under 16 in the 100m (12,41 secs) and 200m (25,84 secs) respectively. During the same year, Krause equalled Maureen van der Ross’  SAAAB junior ladies 100m record of 12,1 seconds at the UWC Stadium. In the 200m, she broke van der Ross’ 200m record of 25,3 when she clocked 25,0 seconds.

She also held the WP senior schools record for girls under 17 in the 100m (12,32 secs) and 200m (25,67 secs) in 1991 respectively.

In 1991, she held the SA schools 100m record of 12, 3 secs, together with Qanita Nazier, Shamiela Jordan and one of the great sprint champions, Sandra Petersen.

However, Krause was the sole record holder of the SA schools girls’ under 17 200m event. Her time was 25,3 secs 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 50,1 secs.

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.

(For the international reader: apartheid was a political system started in 1948 which separated white from black people in every aspect of daily life, including sports. It lasted, politically, until 1994, following the release of Nelson Mandela in February 1990.)

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