Justine Palframan goes into the 200m heats at the world championships in London on Tuesday night after learning how to smile again.
The 2015 World Student Games 400m champion says she suffered a major knock in confidence in the months after her success two years ago‚ after which her form badly dipped.
While Akani Simbine‚ another Universiade champion alongside her‚ moved on to bigger things‚ Palframan went backwards.
Last year was a nightmare‚ with her best efforts in the 200m and 400m being slower than the previous year — she was nearly two seconds slower in her premier 400m event.
“I started with a new coach [this season] so we just wanted to build my confidence up again because after last year it dropped a lot and I wasn’t enjoying running.
“We just wanted to build the enjoyment and then just see what happens‚” said the biokinetics honours student at Stellenbosch‚ where she is mentored by crack Paralympic coach Suzanne Ferreira.
The new approach has worked so far.
Palframan cracked a 200m PB of 22.84 in early July‚ and this year she has been under 53 seconds in the 400m on four occasions‚ her best efforts over that distance since winning the 2015 Universiade gold in 51.27.
“By just having fun and enjoying what I was doing‚ the times came as well‚ so it was very‚ very exciting.”
Palframan believes her problem was the length of the 2015 season‚ where she bounced from the university showpiece to the senior world championships in Beijing and finally the Africa Games.
“The season was far too long for me and in 2016 my confidence was already low. I was tired‚ I didn’t want to be running but I knew I wanted to go to the Olympics so I just kept pressing on.
“But I didn’t have enough time to deal with all my emotions and to actually sit down and regroup myself.”
Her focus on Tuesday night is not the times‚ but rather fine-tuning elements of her race.
“What I’m working on is just to smile after the race so if I have a really bad time or really good time‚ I just want to smile.
“For me just being happy about whatever happens‚ I think that will be nice … the time will come. The time is not the focus. It’s more the process of getting every check point right.”
Obsessing over times was not productive.
“That’s an outcome goal. I must focus on the process because if I’m just here to get that PB and I don’t get it‚ then what happens?
“But if I focus on just enjoying the moment and maybe getting the start right‚ getting the bend right and taking things from it I can work on‚ I’m going to enjoy it more in the long run.”
Palframan hadn’t intended on coming to London‚ but was a late inclusion for the 4x400m relay and was allowed to do the individual 200m.
But her confidence is high‚ especially after seeing the success of her disabled training partners at their recent world championships.
“I’ve done all the work and I’ve just watched my training partners and the times they’re doing and I know where I am compared to them.
“If they can do it‚ there’s nothing stopping me from doing it.”