With the 2016 Paralympics looming ever closer, 2012 Paralympics gold medallist, Johanna Benson, says she is worried about repeating her spectacular achievements of London 2012.
Despite a fairly successful 2014 where she claimed a bronze medal at the Glasgow Commonwealth games in the para-sport long jump, she said her current training programme has made her hesitant about her performance on the biggest stage.
Benson, who is currently at the Nedbank championships said, “My training has been going fine. I train mainly in Walvis Bay with able-bodied athletes so I know I can perform better in my own class at the Nedbank Championship, but I am a bit worried about the All Africa Games and the World Championships. I don’t believe I am well-prepared.”
Benson cited a lack of competition for her concern. She said since the Commonwealth games, she has not managed to compete outside the country in order to test herself against the best.
“I know I will come first in the Nedbank Championship but beyond that I am not confident. I should have been competing in bigger competitions more and I also need to be in a training camp but there isn’t enough support at the moment,” she lamented.
“I want to win again, but I know only with proper training will I achieve this. I don’t know too much about how my Paralympian team-mates are faring in Windhoek, but I know that they too have similar problems with transport,” she said.
Head coach of Namibian Paralympics team, Mike Hamkwaya, shared Benson’s concerns, saying there is a lot of pressure on her. He said, “She did exceptionally well to win but not much has changed in her career since. The training infrastructure in Namibia is not meant for an athlete at that level. We need a high pressure centre.” He added, “Most athletes, once they have performed at this level do everything they can to maintain the training regime.”
Johanna Benson had an international coach, Barbra Fernandes, from Cuba who helped the team prior to the 2012 Paralympics, as well as afterwards. Later that year, Fernandes returned to Cuba.
“After she returned to Cuba, things went down because that coach exposed them to international standards. As an athlete at that level, you need concentrated work. Athletes from other countries often get funding for this,” Hamkwaya said.
He likened the situation to Namibian boxers, who he said, apart from a select few, most find it difficult to compete on an international level, the higher up the world ranks they go.
“Even the first world countries want this medal from Johanna. Namibia is not entitled to it. Namibian athletes are naturally talented but talent can only go so far,” said Hamkwaya.
The Nedbank Championship is the first of a series of chains required to qualify for the Rio 2016 Paralympics and Hamkwaya said it is make or break for Benson.
“It would be very embarrassing for the nation if she can’t even qualify for Paralympics to defend her title. But she is strong. She can do it.”