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Fast, Furious and lucky to be alive

Not many knew who Wayde van Niekerk was before he won gold at the World Championships. Now that he’s well-known, he’s looking to repeat that performance on an even bigger stage.

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When Wayde van Niekerk returned from winning a 400-meter gold medal at the World Championships in Beijing last year, only his mother Odessa was at the airport to welcome him home.

Despite this monumental achievement, he was little known outside of athletics circles. Twelve months on, he is a star on a meteoric rise and will head to the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro in August among South Africa’s leading medal hopefuls.

Van Niekerk already holds a special piece of history as the only person to run under 10 seconds in the 100 meters, sub-20 in the 200 meters and below 44 in the 400 meters, but will focus on just one of those in Rio.

“I’m only looking to compete in the 400-meters, in the future I will look at other events. I want to get myself a solid medal and then take it from there,” Van Niekerk tells FORBES AFRICA.

Despite his impressive times, in reality his chances of medals in the other events would be very slim and he would stand next to no chance of gold competing against the world’s fastest man, Usain Bolt, in the two shorter distances.

BEIJING, CHINA – AUGUST 26: Wayde Van Niekerk of South Africa crosses the finish line to win gold in the Men’s 400 metres final during day five of the 15th IAAF World Athletics Championships Beijing 2015 at Beijing National Stadium on August 26, 2015 in Beijing, China. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

Van Niekerk has already cleared a number of hurdles in his life, including a premature birth that left him fighting for his life, and he believes he can improve those times in the future.

“I believe I still have a lot more in the tank, I’ve just started racing against the best in the world,” he says. “But records are not my goals, I want to win for South Africa.”

“I am excited to show the world that South Africa belongs to be there among the world’s greatest sporting countries.”

Sitting with Van Niekerk, he cuts a determined and focused figure, confident but also humble.

He is, in a way, living the life his mother, now remarried after the deterioration of her relationship with his father, never had due to apartheid. Like her son, she was a talented sprinter competing under the banner of the non-racial South African Council on Sport (SACOS).

Whether she could have made an impact on the international stage is conjecture, but she was denied the chance to try. Van Niekerk says that knowledge drives him to succeed, hinting too that his career has healed a rift between his parents.

“What gives me an extra push is my family, the people who have played a role in getting me to where I am today. Running in my family’s name and representing them is very important to me. More recently having the whole country behind me has been great too.”

“My mom and my dad are super supportive. I appreciate the opportunity we have as a family and I’m grateful that it has brought a sense of togetherness to my family.”

“It’s got my family back together and supporting me, we are not thinking about the past but only the future. This is our moment and I am trying to make each and every one of them proud.”

Tears well in his eyes as he relays the story of his birth, at just 900 grams, and the immediate aftermath that was torture for Odessa.

“Every day she woke up, she wasn’t sure I would be alive. It makes me emotional that my mother had to go through that.”

It’s the reason Van Niekerk donated around $30,000 of his prizemoney from winning the Sportsman of the Year at the 2015 South African Sports Awards last November to the Groote Schuur Hospital’s neonatal unit, where he spent time in an incubator in 1992.

“My contribution is me trying to help others,” he says.

Life may have started out tough for Van Niekerk, but things turned when he attended famed sports school Grey College in Bloemfontein.

“Grey College created the environment for me to succeed. I had to push myself but the school aspires to sporting excellence and I am grateful for the opportunity to have gone there.”

He emerged as a potential 400-meter champion in 2013 when he broke the South African record, and then took silver at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow a year later. It was not until his gold in Beijing that the world really started to take notice though.

“I’m very confident and comfortable in the position I’m in. I’m excited to see what lies ahead of me,” he says. “I cherish every single medal I have. I’ve got this opportunity to go out there and live out my dreams and achieve as much as I can by doing what I love.”

“When it comes to the Olympics it’s another opportunity for me to tick off another title in my career.”

Van Niekerk, who has the fourth fastest time ever in the 400-meters of 43.48, will compete in Rio against LaShawn Merritt of the United States and Kirani James of Grenada.

James has run the quickest time this year of 44.08, but Van Niekerk is just 0.03 off that time in 2016.

“I doubt any of the top three guys are going to Rio not to win the gold medal, that is certainly my vision and goal for the Olympics,” he says. “I am not thinking about any other medal at the moment, but obviously I need to go there healthy and put in my best performance.”

His chances were boosted by the opportunity to train with Bolt and fellow sprinter, Yohan Blake, in Jamaica in June.

“I feel I can learn a lot from them and can improve myself as an athlete,” he says.

Van Niekerk has also welcomed the decision of the International Olympic Committee to re-test drug samples from previous Olympics to root out those who have used banned substances.

“It’s good to know they are going out there and digging out the guys who have been cheating. It’s not a nice feeling knowing you are giving your all out there and somebody else is cheating.”

The Cape Town-born speedster admits he remembers very little of his races, but whatever happens in Rio, he can have no regrets.

“The race itself is a blank experience, I only remember the end. All stresses disappear right there. It’s about me giving my everything and leaving it all there on the track.”

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World’s Highest-Paid Athletes 2019: What Messi, LeBron And Tiger Make

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Major League Baseball had a staggering run this year when, over a four-week period, a quartet of its biggest stars—Nolan Arenado, Bryce Harper, Manny Machado and Mike Trout—signed blockbuster, long-term deals worth a combined $1.3 billion. They ranked as four of the biggest playing contracts in the history of sports.

The deals will create generational wealth for their families, but only Trout, ranked 17th with $50.6 million, cracks the top 20 of the world’s highest-paid athletes.

The difference: Those four baseball stars generate barely $10 million in combined endorsement income while the top earners in basketball, soccer, tennis and golf all individually bank at least $30 million from sponsors annually; eight of the 11 best-paid athletes come from those four sports.

READ MORE | Lionel Messi Claims Top Spot on Forbes’ 2019 List Of The World’s 100 Highest-Paid Athletes

Most of the athletes ranked above Trout follow a similar path: Reach the highest levels of a global sport, and marketers swarm with endorsement deals to pitch their wares around the world.

Barcelona soccer legend Lionel Messi leads the way on this year’s list with $127 million, including $35 million off the pitch from partners Adidas, MasterCard, PepsiCo and more. Messi translates into every language.

Messi is only the fourth athlete to land in the No. 1 spot over the past 19 years, joining Tiger Woods (12 times), Floyd Mayweather (4) and Cristiano Ronaldo (2).

Messi succeeds Mayweather, who failed to get in the ring for a pro bout over the past 12 months but is likely still counting last year’s $285 million haul, which he earned largely from his 2017 bout against UFC star Conor McGregor.


READ MORE | The World’s Highest-Paid Athletes


Messi is joined by fellow global soccer icons Cristiano Ronaldo ($109 million) and Neymar ($105 million) at the top this year. It is the first time that soccer players have ranked as the top three earners in sports since Forbes began tracking athlete earnings in 1990.

Elite stars in other global sports are also extremely marketable on any continent. Roger Federer ranks fifth with $93.4 million, including $86 million off the court.

Federer will turn 38 in August and is a dinosaur in tennis years. Yet Japanese apparel brand Uniqlo signed the 20-time Grand Slam winner in 2018 to a 10-year contract worth $300 million. Federer has a dozen sponsors looking to tap the cash-rich tennis fan demographic.

Basketball’s leading trio of LeBron James ($89 million), Stephen Curry ($79.8 million) and Kevin Durant ($65.4 million) rank seventh through ninth, having earned a combined $130 million beyond their respective playing salaries.

READ MORE | The NBA’s Highest-Paid Players 2019: LeBron James Leads With $89 Million

Their shoe deals, with Nike (James, Durant) and Under Armour (Curry), are by far the biggest endorsement for each player and dwarf what an MLB player can earn pitching baseball cleats and gear.

Sportswear brands, including Adidas, have used NBA stars in China for more than a decade to help establish a foothold in the world’s biggest market, sending big names like James and Durant there every summer on promotional tours. The NBA estimates 640 million people in China watched some kind of NBA programming during the 2017-18 season—that’s nearly twice the population of the U.S.

Golf is another sport that reaches almost every corner of the globe, and no golfer has benefited more than Tiger Woods: He has made $1.4 billion during his career from endorsements and appearance fees, more than 10 times his prize money, and his net worth is a staggering $800 million. Woods ranks 11th on this year’s athletes list with earnings of $63.9 million, including $54 million off the course.

Tiger roared back over the past 12 months with his first win in five years (Tour Championship) and his first major title in 11 years (The Masters). Last year, he signed an exclusive multi-year global content partnership with Discovery’s GolfTV. Head-to-head matches are part of the deal, and most will take place outside the U.S.

The 100 highest-paid athletes earned a combined $4 billion over the past 12 months, up 5% over the previous year. The increase jumps to 16% if you strip out the one-time stimulus of the 2017 Mayweather-McGregor fight. Endorsements fueled much of the gains, with sponsor-driven income at $987 million, up 12% from the previous year.

Overall, athletes from 10 sports and 25 countries made the top 100. Basketball (35 athletes) is the most dominant sport, and Americans (62) are the most dominant nationality.

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Tennis ace Serena Williams ranked 63rd with $29.2 million, including $25 million off the court. She is the only woman to crack the top 100 for the second time in three years. 

No female athletes qualified last year, when Williams was just returning to tennis after a 12-month layoff for her pregnancy and the birth of her daughter, Olympia. Williams is lining up her next act with a new clothing line and a venture capital fundfocused on investing in female and minority founders.

Our earnings include prize money, salaries and bonuses earned between June 1, 2018, and June 1, 2019. Endorsement incomes are an estimate of sponsorships, appearance fees and licensing incomes for the same 12-month period (click here for a more detailed methodology and the numbers behind the top 100).

-Kurt Badenhausen; Forbes Staff

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Lionel Messi Claims Top Spot on Forbes’ 2019 List Of The World’s 100 Highest-Paid Athletes

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Forbes today released its annual ranking of the World’s 100 Highest-Paid athletes, who collectively earned $4 billion over the last 12 months, up 5% from last year’s earnings of $3.8 billion. 

Lionel Messi was named the world’s highest-paid athlete for the first time, up from second place last year, with $127 million in total earnings.

Messi unseats Floyd Mayweather, who held the crown last year, and was the leader four times in seven years. Behind Messi is longtime rival Cristiano Ronaldo (No. 2), who earned $109 million between his salary and endorsements. 

READ MORE | How Rihanna Created A $600 Million Fortune—And Became The World’s Richest Female Musician

Serena Williams (No. 63) returned to the ranking, after no women appeared in 2018. Cost of admission to the 2019 list is the highest ever at $25 million, up $2.1 million from the previous year. Endorsement income experienced an increase of 12.5% to $987 million this year.

“The global impact of soccer is clearly reflected in earnings in 2019, with the top three athletes on the list being Messi, Ronaldo, and Neymar,” said Kurt Badenhausen, senior editor, Forbes Media.

“But basketball players continue to dominate the top 100 overall with 35 athletes on the list earning a total of $1.29 billion, with 72% of that income coming from salaries rather than endorsement deals.”

READ MORE | Artist, Icon, Billionaire: How Jay-Z Created His $1 Billion Fortune

The list of elite athletes consists of players from ten different sports. NBA stars lead with 35 basketball players among the top 100, down from 40 in 2018, headed by LeBron James (No. 8 with $89 million).

Football was the next most-represented sport with 19 players, followed by baseball with 15, and soccer with 12.

There are 25 different countries represented on this year’s World’s Highest-Paid Athletes list, up from 22 in 2018. Americans dominate the action with 62 athletes thanks to the sky-high salaries in the major sports leagues.

The U.K. has five athletes, France and Spain have three, while Brazil, Canada, the Dominican Republic, Germany, Serbia and Venezuela all have two.

Methodology: 

Our earnings include prize money, salaries and bonuses earned between June 1, 2018 and June 1, 2019. Endorsement incomes are an estimate of sponsorships, appearance fees and licensing incomes for the same 12-month period based on conversations with dozens of industry insiders. We do not deduct for taxes or agents’ fees, and we don’t include investment income.

The World’s Top 10 Highest-Paid Athletes in 2019:

RankAthleteSportSalary/Winnings ($mil)Endorsements ($mil)Total Earnings ($mil)
1Lionel MessiSoccer9235127
2Cristiano RonaldoSoccer6544109
3NeymarSoccer7530105
4Canelo AlvarezBoxing92294
5Roger FedererTennis7.48693.4
6Russell WilsonFootball80.5989.5
7Aaron RodgersFootball80.3989.3
8LeBron JamesBasketball365389
9Stephen CurryBasketball37.84279.8
10Kevin DurantBasketball30.43565.4

-Forbes Corporate Communications; Forbes Staff

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Health

Young women in Soweto, South Africa, say healthy living is hard. Here’s why

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Data from South Africa has shown that over two thirds of young women are overweight and obese. This predisposes them to non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and hypertension. Most women are not exercising enough, and consumption of processed and calorie-dense foods and high amounts of sugar is common.

It was this knowledge that sparked the establishment of the Health Life Trajectories Initiative. It’s being run in South Africa, India, China and Canada and aims to provide interventions that can help young women stay healthy before, during and after pregnancy.

In South Africa, this randomised controlled trial will provide one-on-one support as well as peer group sessions to over 6000 young women. The idea is provide them with information, and to help them set and maintain goals for healthier lifestyles.

Researchers from the Medical Research Council and Wits University’s Developmental Pathways for Health Research Unit are running the South African arm of the study. We wanted to start by better understanding our target population – that is, young women aged between 18 and 24 living in Soweto.

READ MORE | Local Solutions Can Boost Healthier Food Choices In South Africa

Soweto is a large, densely populated urban township which comprises one third of Johannesburg’s population. Soweto is becoming rapidly urbanised, but the majority of people are still very poor and struggle to provide food for their families.

We conducted a series of focus group discussions and in depth interviews to unravel health behaviours, barriers and facilitators to wellbeing and health with young women from Soweto who had not yet had a child. We also asked them about what sorts of interventions they’d prefer to support and guide them.

The women offered important insights that showed it’s not enough to simply promote healthy eating and exercise without considering the very real environmental and structural constraints present in South Africa.

Barriers to healthy choices

The 29 participants spoke about many different facets of health. These included happiness and mental wellbeing, faith, social support, body image, and lifestyle behaviours.

They identified many barriers to healthy eating, among them the cost of and access to healthy food options. Some women also said they had little access to exercise facilities such as gyms and were afraid to exercise on the streets because they feared being assaulted or harassed. One woman said:

No, I don’t feel safe because we have drug addicts, traffic, women trafficking: it’s not safe for us to walk in the streets.

The women we interviewed painted a picture of an environment in which healthy behaviours are difficult to implement or sustain. One said:

Small businesses that are opening up in my community and they all sell fries, literally they just all sell fries…

Women told us that cheap and unhealthy fast foods are on every street corner: “bunny chow” – hollowed out bread stuffed with curry – vetkoek (a fried dough bread stuffed with different fillings) and fried chips are affordable and available within a few steps of most houses. As a result, women did not want to go out of their way to purchase healthier, more expensive foods.

Our interviewees also didn’t feel able to demand that healthier food be bought for their homes, because many were not contributing financially and were therefore not in a position to control food purchases. Women reported being financially dependant on relatives and male partners.

READ MORE | New Ways Of Thinking On Health, Arts And Humanities Are Emerging In Africa

Exercise

They also said that opportunities for physical activity were neither provided nor prioritised for women in Soweto. Some women said that a lack of facilities made it difficult for them to participate in any exercise, as they did not have access to gyms or fields to exercise.

Other women told us that there were gyms, sports grounds, parks, and even free aerobics classes at community halls in their area. However these facilities often get vandalised quickly, and can no longer be used. More importantly, they didn’t feel safe enough to exercise on the streets, perhaps by jogging or running. They also felt unsafe walking around in leggings or tights. Women were fearful of human trafficking, sexual assault, and violence – very real issues in this community.

Crucially, our research found that young women did not see obesity as a sufficient reason to change their behaviour. But they said they would be motivated to exercise and eat better if they were diagnosed with a non-communicable disease like diabetes.

This suggests that obesity has become normalised in South Africa – and this needs to be addressed.

Policy interventions

These findings are now being worked into our interventions, and we are cognisant of the contextual realities that may affect young women’s ability to change their lifestyles. We hope that this research, along with whatever findings emerge from our interventions, will inform policy makers and motivate them to implement necessary changes in this community.

Women in Soweto and in South Africa in general need support to live healthier lifestyles. This support needs to come from policy makers. If South Africa does not step up and support young women by providing them with access to safe spaces and affordable healthier foods, and by controlling the oversupply of unhealthy options, the country may not be able to curb its ever increasing rise in obesity and related non-communicable diseases.

-Alessandra Prioreschi: Associate Director and Researcher at the Developmental Pathways for Health Research Unit (DPHRU), University of the Witwatersrand

The Conversation

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