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Road to Rio: Winning ways with Carina Horn

 

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Our Stand Up Sport columnist Cobus Kruger and his wife Philna interview athletes who qualified and might represent South Africa at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio in August. Accomplished athletes themselves, Cobus and Philna minister together in the sports arena and will accompany Athletes In Action as part of the Rio Olympic chaplaincy programme in Rio.

Carina Horn– By Philna Kruger
Carina Horn surely looks intimidating, especially when you are lining up next to her in a 100m sprint, but in person I have found that she is warm, open and friendly. Carina loves adventure and will choose bungee jumping above hiking, she enjoys chicken more than fish and ‘in-season’ is (obviously) her favourite season of the year! Carina, a powerful sprint athlete, ran her personal best of 11.06s in the 100m during 2015 and with that has equalled the South African record set up by Evette de Klerk in 1990. Cobus and I met up with her and her coach, Rainer Schopf from Austria, at the HPC in Pretoria and had such a lekker chat with them both regarding the journey up to now and the road to Rio. Here is what they had to say:

Carina, where did you grow up?
Carina: I was born in Ladysmith, Natal. We then moved to Jo’burg when I was 12 years old and stayed there until I finished school. Then I moved to Pretoria for athletics.

How and when did you decide to become a sprinter?
Carina: In school I normally did everything and was good in everything. I did hockey, cricket, athletics and tennis.
Cobus: Wait a minute – cricket? Were you a batsman or bowler?
Carina: Both. I was both opening bowler and opening batsman and I also played for the first men’s team. So, I would only get back home late at night after all the extra mural activities and then I still had to do my homework. After a hockey game injury my mom just got fed-up with me and said: ‘Listen, you have to decide. You can’t do everything.’ I was always chosen for the SA cricket and hockey teams. Athletics was the only sport I wasn’t the best in my age in South Africa, but the thing that made me choose athletics after school was the fact that your performance is not depending on a team. I know that if I do the work, what I put in I will get out. So, if I run a specific time no-one can take that away from me. So, it’s all on me.

So, you basically decided to seriously focus on sprinting after school?
Carina: Ja, before that my focus wasn’t really just on athletics. My first sport was actually hockey. So just because of that and a few other reasons I decided to focus just on athletics.

Growing up did you have any role-models?
Carina: Yes, but it was not athletes or sprinters as such, because I was more interested in other sports at the time – Hansie Cronje, Jonty Rhodes and Ryk Neethling. All over except athletics (laughing).
That’s fine! In the end that doesn’t matter. It’s about being inspired to reach higher goals.
Cobus: But it seems to me it was rather all the handsome guys. (laughing) Makes sense.
Carina: (laughing)

On a spiritual side – did you have any Christian influences growing up?
Carina: Ja, definitely. My mom is also a big Christian. She always had a big influence in my everyday life. She will send me a text of what she is reading at night, especially when I am not staying with her and ja, that is how I make my decisions as well. You can’t go on the track every day without reading a scripture or starting your day right. So, that is how I start my day. When I’m in the gym and I have to lift 300kg He is there with me. I also ask and pray there as well. It’s not just off the track it’s on the track as well.

Testimony wise – did you have a specific day where you made a decision to follow Christ or was it a different process for you?
Carina: I can’t really say that there was a specific day. The times when I went to Europe, I was mostly alone and sometimes for three months at a time and I had a lot more time to think about things. Before Rainer was my coach your coach would not travel with you. You travel alone, train alone and are always alone. So, during those days I had more time to think about everything and then realised that He is what I actually need. You don’t always understand why things happen the way it does: you train hard but things aren’t going your way, so, you have to search in those times. That’s also when I realised He is actually what I need. If you have Him you will get everything that follows.

If you had to describe Carina Horn in one sentence what would it be?
Carina: Dedicated, if I decide on something I won’t stop until I have reached it and goal-driven.

You have qualified for the Olympic Games and have done so very early in the season. You actually managed to run well below the qualifying time last year already. So, we would like to also find out a little bit more about your Road to Rio experience.
Carina: In 2007/2008 I decided to start focusing on athletics. My first goal was to go to World Students in 2009. I managed to qualify for World Students in the 200m. 2010 the only goal really was African Champs and I went to compete there in the 200m as well. I changed coaches after that and within 3 months my new coach got me to run an 11.43 in the 100m. This was during 2011. At the end 2011 to beginning 2012 I had to change coaches again and realised that I needed to put in everything if I wanted to really get somewhere. I sold my car to travel to Europe.

I wanted to try and qualify for the Olympic Games. I was there for 3 months and while there I received 4 coaching offers. I decided on a coach from Spain. Two weeks before I came back to South Africa I was contacted by a guy who wanted to bring his coach to speak with me. I declined as I already decided on the coach from Spain. 5 days before I travelled back to South Africa the guy and his coach just decided that they are coming to see me anyway and they drove about 8 hours to where I was staying in Germany. We spoke that evening after they arrived and I joined them on the track the next morning. I just changed my mind there and then. I had to phone my mom. No more Spain. I’m going to Austria!

That played a big role in my journey up to now: after giving up so much to get to my goal I got something so much bigger. It was the biggest commitment of my life. Then, later on Rainer said to focus on the 100m although the 200m was actually my better event. It’s was a risk and there are no guarantees. When I make decisions like that I pray about it. I got this peaceful feeling and I just knew. That’s how I decided. I had peace in my heart and so far it paid off. So, the 2016 Olympic journey started in 2013.

We said we will be in Rio for the Games in 2016. 2013, the first year building up to Rio went well and I also ran a PB. Each year it just got better. In 2014 I had a breakthrough with the 11.17s which was a qualification time already. But I also had disappointments. It was the Commonwealth year as well, I ran the 11.17 and was well below the qualification time, but was never selected for the Commonwealth team. I could have finished 3rd or 4th in the final with that time.

So, how did you deal with that? Not being selected?
Carina: I was feeling negative. Up to now it wasn’t an easy journey. I had to find new motivation and I had to find new goals. 2015 was World Champs and you just have to run faster! That’s what you have to do. Not every race is the perfect race. You are not happy after each race even after I equalled the SA record you still have a bad race and sometimes you just see the negative things and ja, it’s not always easy and nice to race, but you have to find the positive things and see where you came from, what you have achieved so far. It’s not only about the one race. My coach has to remind me a lot sometimes.

So, your coach plays an important role in reminding you about the process: where you came from, where you are now and what you have achieved up to now?
Carina: Yes, because not every race is easy and not every race is the same. You don’t feel the same every day.
Coach Rainer: There are more off-track problems to deal with when you get faster than on-track problems. 2012, 2013, 2014 nobody bothered us. Nothing. We could just go to the track and train and work on the on-track problems, but when you get better everyone wants to say something, this and that, yes and no and then you also have to deal with politics.
Carina: Ja, People told me I would never be able to compete world-class in the 100m. I do the 60m indoors as well. People said I would not be able to do the 60m and that I am not a 60m athlete. In that same year I qualified for the world indoors. So, it’s mostly people around you that don’t make it easy for you and it’s more those people that tend to influence you negatively, more even so than training days that aren’t nice.

How do you deal with these negative influences from people off the track?
Coach Rainer: It’s more me that helps her with that.

So, coach, what advise can you give us?
Coach Rainer: The best you can do is to just ignore it. Let it go in and out, because it doesn’t change anything. Even if they say something very positive that I like, but it shouldn’t go to your head. I decide where people can have influence in my life, but for me it is a bit easier. I have people that I can discuss things openly with.
Cobus: But I guess it’s also to trust in the system and in the coach. At the end the athlete has to agree with the coach and the structure the coach uses. As soon as that is on point you can cut yourself off from all the other chatter.

Cobus: Can I just ask a question to you Rainer? Why did you decide to drive all those miles to chat with Carina?
Coach Rainer: I saw her the first time in 2011 at a competition. I knew there was a girl with a personal best of 11.4-something that will be running. I watched her run and I sat there and said: ‘Ai’. If she can run an 11.4 with that form and technique then there must be something. I also saw her in the warm-up and she had that something. She wants to run. At that stage I didn’t think I would have the chance to train her. Later on when I heard that she was looking for a coach I waited 3-4 days, thinking about it. Doing it would also be life changing for me – it was all in or nothing. I had to consider the traveling to and from South Africa. It’s expensive and also I have my work to work around as well. So, in the end I decided that I want to do it, I want to try or at least have the chance and then I contacted her.

Carina, what does a typical training day or week look like for you?
Carina: I was used to training two hours each day on the track. Then, when I started with Rainer it took the whole day! (laughing). I thought that maybe it’s just that week that he was here and that he had so many things to tell me, but then when I got my programme training took the whole day. I started at 10:00 and then I finished that day at about 18:00 with an hour break in between. So, Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays I train from about 10:00 – 17:00 sometimes even a bit later with an hour break in between. Mornings it’s usually track and after a break then gym in the afternoon. Tuesdays and Fridays I only train half day and are easy days. I will do everything at once. Then, normally I will have rest days on Saturdays and Sundays.
Coach Rainer: The difference is that we focus a lot on technique and technique takes time. Carina will run, then we will watch the video of the run and we will talk about it. So, one run will take about 10 minutes.

What does your diet look like?
Carina: I don’t eat vegetables (laughing). Just don’t like it. I eat meat and pasta. I don’t have a specific diet. I listen to my body and will eat something like KFC after training for example if my body needs fat. So, if my body needs it then I will have it, but I won’t eat out every single day of my life. So, I will still have discipline.

Do you believe that God has a plan and a purpose for you and your athletics?
Carina: Yes, definitely. I’m not 100% sure what His specific goal is, but I know it’s doing 100m because else I wouldn’t have had the opportunity. God put people in my life to assist and give me the opportunity to focus on what I need to be focusing on. If it wasn’t for Him and His plan I wouldn’t have been able to do it.

How do you experience God?
Carina: When I ask God a question then I will get an answer. He sometimes gives me an answer as a feeling and according to that feeling I can say ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Sometimes the answer I want is different from the feeling I have and so I have to then make a change, because it doesn’t feel right.

What advice can you give to aspiring pro athletes?
Carina: Believe in what you are doing. Trust in yourself and the people around you. Keep on focusing on what you want to achieve and never give up on it.

What are your future plans and goals?
Coach Rainer: Win everything! (laughing)
Cobus: Running Bolt’s 100m time!
Carina: Sjoe! Running Bolt’s time? Maybe over 90 metres (laughing). For this year it’s definitely Olympics final and also running a sub 11 on the 100m, World Champs next year and to run hopefully faster. I’m hoping to be one of the medal contenders and also to be at the next Olympics then thereafter. But ja, hopefully just run faster every year!

Cobus: Do you have a special someone in your life or anyone on the horizon?
Carina: No.
Cobus: Coach says no! No distractions, please (laughing)
Coach Rainer: If you find somebody that is right and they will support you then that is not a problem. If they don’t support you then that is a problem and they are probably not the right person.

That is so true! Well, thank you so much. Dankie, Carina. Dit was lekker om jou nou offisieel te ontmoet. Alles van die beste met jou doelwitte vorentoe. Same to you, Rainer. Coaching is a big responsibility. Mag die Here julle seën– both of you.

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