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Give Us Hope, Johanna

Namibia’s T37 athlete Johanna Benson, in action during the T37, 400m heats at the 2019 International Paralympic Committee World Para Athletics Championships in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Photo: NAMPA
WINDHOEK - Namibian Paralympian Johanna Benson, who hogged the limelight in 2012 after winning Namibia's first ever gold medal in the 2012 T37 200m sprint event in London, says next year will determine whether she qualifies for the Tokyo Paralympic Games or not.

Benson has been training and is looking forward to competing in South Africa in early 2021 in order to qualify for the Games slated for 24 August to 5 September. She says the Games will lift the spirits of Namibians, which have been dimmed by gender-based violence and looting of the country’s resources.

Missing grand stage: The 30-year-old Benson, who was born and raised in Walvis Bay, says she misses the competitive stage. She trains under Belinda Oberholzer at the Welwitschia 77 Athletics Club, from 16:00 to 18:00 Monday to Thursday, and again on Saturday from 08:00 to 10:00.

“I miss competing against the best. A lot of people I meet on the street ask when I will be running again. I want to tell them that I’m still around and have been training despite Covid-19 setting a lot of us back over the months,” she says.

Benson made Namibian sporting history in London by becoming the country’s first ever gold medallist at the Paralympic Games. It was also the country’s first gold medal at either an Olympic or Paralympic Games. She was Namibia's only female athlete at the Games and competed in the T37 100m and 200m finals. She won two medals - silver in the 100m and gold in 200m, clinching a new African record with a time of 29.26 seconds.

I look to the future

“I will never forget that performance. It will live with me forever. But I have my eyes set on the future. I want to better my time of 14.16 seconds that I set in 2012 in the 100m. “I want to run in that heat. That’s my focus. The medals will come if I can improve on that time,” says Benson. She says being a Paralympic athlete has opened many doors for her and also improved her living conditions.

Life improved

The Namibian, who was 22 years old when she won the gold and silver medals, received N$170 000, a house in Walvis Bay and a diplomatic passport from the government. She further received money from private individuals, institutions and organisations.

Asked if she would have received all of these had she not been an athlete, Benson said no. “Society would not have embraced or celebrated me and I would never even have gotten a job at Hangana Seafood, where I have been working for the last four years.

“There are many disabled people in our society. No one cares about them. They remember and know me because I won medals. I’m lucky. But others like me are not.” She says in order to produce more medals, companies and the government need to invest in para-athletes.

“We return with the most medals, more than the able-bodied athletes, yet we receive little to no funding and most occasions after a competition end with hand clapping. Also, the preparations we receive before competitions is ridiculous. “A training camp for two weeks before a championship is not enough. Put me in camp for two months and see the results I can produce,’’ Benson says.

She adds that most people don’t take time to speak to her. “I like to observe others, but I have a mind of my own. Physical disability doesn’t always mean mental disability.”

Medal record

Benson was a 2012 nominee for the Laureus World Sports Award for Sportsperson of the Year with a Disability, here are the brief highlights:
  • In 2015 she won bronze in the 200m (T37) in Doha.
  • Also in 2015, she won gold in the 100m in Brazzaville.
  • In 2014, she won bronze in Glasgow in the T37/38 long jump.
  • In 2013 at the IPC Athletics World Championships in Lyon, she won bronze medals in the 100m and 200m. 
  • At the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi she also took bronze.
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