24 October 2023

Taekwondo dynamic coach/athlete duo awarded Australian Sports Medal

Winning an Australian sports medal is no easy feat. The national award, bestowed upon those who exhibit sporting excellence, is an incredible achievement for any athlete in a competitive and high-achieving sporting nation like our own. Even more remarkable and rare is to see both a coach and an athlete awarded simultaneously. 

This is exactly what was accomplished by Taekwondo Paralympian Janine Watson and her coach Ben Hartmann when they recently picked up the award for Janine’s bronze medal performance at the 2020 Paralympic Games in Tokyo. 

Ben and Janine started training together in 2013 on the Gold Coast at Hartmann’s Taekwondo, formerly known as Tan’s Gold Coast. Diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis at a young age, Janine showed a determination to compete in para taekwondo and, through Ben’s guidance, would go on to excel. 

She would win the Commonwealth Championship gold, multiple World Championships and eventually become Australia’s first ever Paralympic bronze medalist at the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics. 

An achievement that certainly did not come without strife or hindrance. 

In the lead-up to the tournament, Ben and Janine travelled constantly between Brisbane and the Gold Coast for a rigorous training regiment. 

“He was not only a coach but a sparring partner; we trained like we were both competing at the games,” Janine told Australian Taekwondo.

Having established an excellent support team at the Queensland Academy of Sport, and given the freedom to individualise their Tokyo lead-up in light of Covid restrictions, the duo arrived in Tokyo ready to go. 

However, the ongoing restrictions meant an aura of uncertainty surrounding the games, with little certainty in whether matchups would go ahead and timetables constantly in a frenzy of change. 

Something that Janine says was mentally challenging and required added perseverance. Nevertheless, through their incredible partnership - the team managed to achieve an unprecedented win, with Janine fighting her way to the bronze in exemplary fashion. 

“Disability is not something that you overcome. It is not an injury; it is something you have for life. But, coaching an athlete with a disability is no different to coaching an able-bodied athlete. You find their strengths, and you make them stronger. This builds confidence and self-belief in the athlete, and as a result, you can then start to work on improving other aspects of their game. This is what Ben did,” Janine said. 

Janine continues to advocate for the inclusion of Para Taekwondo at all levels, grassroots to elite. At the recent 2023 Australian Taekwondo championships, there was a record number of para-athletes participating, and Janine hopes to see this number increase each and every year. 

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