Johannes eyes high Olympic statusBy: SHEEFENI NIKODEMUS
LATE bloomer Helalia Johannes ran only her third race in the gruelling marathon at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
She battled hard to finish in a commendable 43rd from a field of 60 seasoned runners - nearly ten minutes behind eventual winner Constantina Tomescu from Romania, who posted two hours, 24 minutes and 44 seconds.
Last year Johannes shaved off over five minutes from that time as she set a then new national record of 2:30:35 on her way to winning the Dublin Marathon.
That mark has since been improved by closest rival Beata Naigambo to 2:29:20 at the Dubai Marathon earlier this year.
However, losing that accolade is the least of the ever-improving Johannes’ concerns as success at the Olympic games is her primary priority.
“In 2008 my aim was not to go and win a medal. My aim was to go and get experience,” Johannes explains.
“It was my first time to be among top runners in such a big event and I was just happy to be around the top runners. It was my third marathon and the experience was not enough.
“My first time to run a marathon was in Dublin that year and then I also competed in South Korea before the Olympics.
“I have experience now. So I won’t be going there to learn this time.”
Four years on and the deeply religious Johannes believes anything is now possible, especially given that it’s always hard to predict podium places over the distance at the Olympics.
In the last four women’s Olympic marathons, the runners who had dominated the distance in the preceding years all failed to live up to their billing.
“My aim now is to do much better than the last time. I know there are many strong runners but I hope that I can finish in the top ten but nothing is impossible.”
Getting ready for the Games has so far gone smooth for Johannes whose spent the best part of a month training in north of the country where temperatures are significantly warmer during winter.
At 32, Johannes realises that she is no spring chicken but nevertheless feels she still has legs for a third Olympic appearance.
And she need not look further than Tomescu who is the oldest Olympic women’s marathon winner for inspiration
A deeply religious person, Johannes believes discipline – more than her powerful frame – is her biggest asset.
“It’s going well with me. I feel better prepared than last time. I try to eat the right food and to look after my body.
Now I just have to focus on the Olympics and hope that I perform well.”