Austrian Champion Benda Flexes Towards Olympic Berth

Written by John Crumlish for International Gymnast Online

Thursday, November 12, 2020

© Oliver Lerch/ÖFT

Austrian gymnast Alexander Benda is flexing toward his goal of an Olympic berth through his achievements this fall that include making his first Challenge Cup finals and winning his second national all-around title since 2017.

“I felt very ready, power- and endurance-wise, to go through a clean and stable all-around,” Benda told International Gymnast Online of his victory at last weekend’s Austrian Championships in Egg, Vorarlberg. “I had a lot of fun during the competition and never felt any big insecurities, due to the many numbers of routines I did in preparation for these championships.”

Benda said he was satisfied to regain the Austrian national all-around title after placing second in 2018 and 2019. His total score of 78.90 points in Egg ranked him ahead of silver medalist Manuel Arnold (77.10) and bronze medalist Ricardo Rudy (76.35). Benda went on to win gold in three of the six apparatus finals.

“In 2018 I did the national championships in a world of pain and could only compete with painkillers,” he said. “Afterwards I found out that I competed all my routines with a partly broken vertebra. In 2019 it was a really close competition between Vinzenz Höck and me, and in the end he beat me by less than 0.2 points. So for this year, where Vinzi didn’t compete in the all-around, I knew I had a great chance to win it and I was happy that it worked.”

Benda is now targeting an all-around score of 80.0 and a berth to the Olympic Games, perhaps as soon as next summer’s Tokyo Games.

“In my opinion, now with the all-around I did at nationals, I have a very clean and stable basis with which I can achieve 80 points,” said Benda, who scored 76.966 to place 83rd all-around in qualifications at last fall’s World Championships in Stuttgart. “Getting that was already a lot of work and I will try my best to even increase the difficulty on certain apparatus. But the main key has to be that I don’t lose the execution and stability of my routines.”

Benda’s performance at last month’s Challenge Cup of Szombathely gave him two jolts of confidence. He finished fifth on floor exercise and sixth on horizontal bar, qualifying for the first two Challenge Cup finals of his career.

“Szombathely was a great experience and I was very happy that I competed four routines is a row without major breaks, and competed in my first Challenge Cup finals,” said Benda, whose previous best Challenge Cup finish was 10th on horizontal bar at the 2018 Challenge Cup of Guimaraes.

His aim for next month’s European Championships in Mersin are realistic but ambitious, given the scope of the nations involved even with several countries declining to send teams.

“At the moment Austria still has the plan to go to Europeans, and there I want to show the best gymnastics I am capable of,” Benda said. “My goal is to place in the top 20 to top 15 on floor or high bar.”

Born February 27, 1997, in Graz, Benda trains in Innsbruck under coach Petr Koudela, whom he primarily credits for his development into a high-level athlete.

“I am very, very thankful and happy because without him I wouldn’t have become the gymnast that I developed into in the last five years since I moved to Tirol to train with him,” said Benda of Koudela, who is also the national team coach. “But since last year the new junior national coach, (two-time Irish Olympian) Kieran Behan, is also a big influence in my gymnastics because he trains with juniors in the same gym that I am in. He helps me alongside Petr to improve my gymnastics every day.”

Like athletes everywhere, Benda was frustrated but resourceful during quarantine. The experience tested his patience and confirmed his devotion to the sport.

“Every time I wasn‘t allowed to leave my apartment I tried to do as much as possible at home to stay fit,” he said. “In that time I could experience again how much the gym and doing gymnastics means to me, and that helped me work as hard as I could when I was finally back in my gym.”

After quarantining from March 15 until the end of April, Benda returned to “a little amount of hours” of training in the gym with a maximum of eight people. “It took me a while to get back into real training but we tried to increase the hours as soon as possible,” he said.

Benda has also maintained his professional and academic obligations during the pandemic. He is one of five Austrian male artistic gymnasts who hold positions in a branch of the Austrian military that support athletes. “I will try my best to stay in there to make my Olympic dream come true,” Benda said. Early next year he plans to complete his second diploma, in fitness and healthcare management, at Bildak, an academic institution in Salzburg.

Whether Benda advance to Tokyo or shifts his Olympic aspirations to the 2024 Games in Paris, he is unwavering in his devotion to the sport and his main ambition.

“The pandemic showed me there is no doubt for me that, next to my family and friends, gymnastics is the most important thing in my life,” Benda told International Gymnast Online. “The Europeans this year will not be a qualifier for the Olympic Games, but I will do everything to earn my Olympic spot at the latest in 2024.”

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