Alfonso Benavides, aka “Sete”, is the young Spanish canoeist rapidly rising through the ranks in the last three years. He was crowned with a bronze medal in the C1 200m at the Sprint World Championships last summer in Szeged earning him direct entry to the London 2012 Olympic Games representing Spain.
Born in the island of Mallorca in October 1991, at 20 he is now living the dream of every athlete and there’s also the real chance of him becoming a medalist. He kindly granted us this interview in one of his rare moments of rest between training sessions.
His start in canoeing
Every summer when I was a child, my brothers and I were a bit bored so our parents enrolled us at the summer canoeing camp. That same year I competed at the regional championships and I really enjoyed it, as well as all the friends I made in the club, so I stayed and started training every weekend.
I started with the canoe because of the “David Cal effect”. In 2004 he had just won gold in Athens so I wanted to try it. I also learnt to paddle a kayak and I like competing in our regional champs in kayak too. It’s nice to have a change from the canoe.
Having been at all the international championships since you were a junior, making the quality step forward with your bronze medal at the World Championships in Szeged, plus gaining the Olympic entry for London 2012, did this change your plans for this season or were you already thinking of the possibility of going to the Olympic Games?
2011 was not an easy year for me. I didn’t know how I ranked internationally in the senior category, but when I had the chance of going in the European Championships where I took silver, my coach and I actually realized that I could go for the Olympic qualification. So from that moment on we started planning both 2011 and 2012 and everything went as planned so we didn’t need to change anything.
Choosing to specialise in 200m
Sportscene: Was it your choice to specialise in 200 metres or did the coaches recognise your natural skills for this distance?
I actually compete in every distance because paddling one distance just seems very boring to me. My coach told me about the strengths he was noticing in me paddling 200m and I didn’t hesitate to focus on these. I try not to forget about the other distances though as I enjoy competing in as many as I can.
Lack of competition in 2012
Sportscene: Your 2012 season has seen lots of training because of a lack of competitive events. Having won the medal in Szegad you didn’t have to go to the National trials and there are few competitions in Spain. How do you manage this lack of competition?
It’s true that I’m not competing a lot this year but I’ll paddle the World Cup in Poznan and the European Championships in Zagreb and these two races will be very important tests to check how my trainings are going. Anyway, the tough training is worth it because the stakes are high.
Sportscene: With few chances to race, getting the bronze medal at the pre-Olympic test on Eton Dorney, the venue for the Sprint competition of the Games, was important. What were your feelings after this race?
The pre-Olympic race was really hard because of strong winds at the course but we need to adapt to any condition that we could face there. The venue itself is really beautiful with a lot of green country around and there was already an Olympic feeling in the air. There were many spectators and at the Olympic Games it will definitely be crowded so it will be very special.
The wind at Eton
Sportscene: There have been a lot of comments about the problem the wind could present at Eton if it appears at the competition, as it’s most likely to blow from side to side of the course. How will it affect you because you paddle on your left side?
That is THE question we’ve all been thinking about these last few months. The course can be very fast or slow depending on the wind, but for the 200 metres we hope that the bleachers to be installed will stop most of it. If not, we need to adapt… and the wind will be blowing for everybody.
Sportscene: The medal you achieved in Szeged will give you great confidence at the Olympics, but it’s not at all easy to claim an Olympic medal. Who do you see as your rivals to beat?
Well, everybody who has qualified for the Games has deserved it, nobody goes for free, so all of them can aim for a medal. I see many strong competitors, but instead of focussing on that, I must focus on myself and on giving my best to go for victory.
Sportscene: People may think that your achievements are the result of paddling as fast as you can for 40 seconds, but how much training is behind such a short race? How much time do you dedicate daily to your trainings?
Yes, it’s a very short race, but there’s a lot of training behind those 40 seconds. Including all the time I spend going to the lake, training, the gym, physio care, etc… it may be between 5 and 7 hours a day. Obviously, time on the water is sometimes short, but it is effective.
Sportscene: Apart from canoeing, what else do you do? Are you studying?
Yes, apart from canoeing I have a rather standard life. I study during the day and I enjoy being with my family and friends. Using my time wisely, there’s time for everything in my schedule.
Sportscene: Do you count on any sponsors to help you with your career?
To achieve my current position it is thanks to my hometown club, the Real Club Náutico Puerto de Pollença. Without them and without my coach, none of this would be possible. I also have to thank Nelo and Bracsa for supplying gear for me. I don’t really have true sponsors, my club helps me financially and my coach supports me everyday with his company and care.
Alfonso’s values, skills and his endurance will hold him in good stead for big things in the future. A future we hope will be catapulted at the Olympics in London 2012.