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Robyn Johnson’s living her Olympic dream ... and more

Robyn Johnson of Southern Gauteng controls the ball during a 2021 Womens IPT hockey against a South Africa Under-21 side. Picture: Shaun Roy/BackpagePix

Robyn Johnson of Southern Gauteng controls the ball during a 2021 Womens IPT hockey against a South Africa Under-21 side. Picture: Shaun Roy/BackpagePix

Published Jan 15, 2022

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Johannesburg - Robyn Johnson is in for the kind of year dreams are made of. But hers is going to be the kind even she wouldn’t have imagined despite her ambitious character.

Fresh from realising the ultimate sportsman’s wish of playing at the Olympics, the South African national hockey team player is set to participate in a continental tournament, a major international event as well as two World Cups in 2022.

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“Of course I dreamt of all these, but it is incredible that I am going to experience most of it in a single year,” Johnson said during our interview in the foyer of the team’s hotel in Pretoria prior to their departure for Ghana where the national women’s hockey team will be out to continue their dominance of the continent in the Africa Cup of Nations starting on Monday.

South Africa have won all seven of the previous tournaments with Johnson having made her debut in the last one played in Stellenbosch two years ago.

While she and her coach emphasised that there would be no complacency, it is almost a foregone conclusion that they will once again conquer Africa and thus book their ticket to the World Cup in Spain and the Netherlands in early July. As Africa’s best, they should also participate at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, England from July 28 to August 8.

Prior to those two events, Johnson would have already participated in another World Cup, the Indoor Hockey World Cup next month in Belgium to which she will fly immediately after the Nations Cup in Ghana.

That all these are happening to someone who was beginning to think representing her country was not meant for her as the call-up just didn’t happen despite her doing well at provincial level, is testament to the fact that one should never give up on their goals.

“I only got my first call-up to the national team in 2018, a little belatedly because I’d been playing for a while and did well playing for Western Province as a teenager and later I played for Southern Gauteng and thought I’d make the national team back then. But better late than never, right?” she chuckled, having arrived a little late for our interview straight from work at a school where she is a sports administrator.

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That she eventually got to play for her country is because she was fortunate to have worked with a legend of the game.

“I was very lucky because I played with Pietie Coetzee for Southern Gauteng and later she also coached me while I was a student at Wits. When you played with Pietie you just had to up your game because she had this way of commanding excellence from those around her.

“As a coach, Pietie made all of us feel very important and key to the team irrespective of our experience or talents or achievements.”

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So vastly that Johnson was soon turning out for her country and last year went to the Tokyo Olympics to realise a long-held dream.

“Aaah, the Olympics! What can I say? It was because of the Olympics that I really took playing hockey seriously. Back in 2008 I saw the Beijing Olympics and watched a lot of hockey matches. I was already playing the game then after my cousin had given me a stick and just watching those matches, I knew there and then that I’d one day love to play at the Olympics. And it has now happened, even though sometimes I have to pinch myself because it is unbelievable that I am an Olympian.

“I made my family proud because I am the first Olympian in the Johnson family,” explained the daughter of football coach Cavin Johnson, who has worked at clubs such as Supersport United, Platinum Stars and Amazulu as well as having been assistant at Al Ahly and developed many stars at the School of Excellence.

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Though a coach, Johnson does not meddle in his daughter’s career.

“My dad is supportive. He does come to watch and tell me I had not done so bad,” she laughs. “But he never put me under pressure. I have very supportive parents.”

Lilian du Plessis of South Africa celebrates her goal against Ghana with teammates Robyn Johnson and Onthatile Zulu. Picture: Ryan Wilkisky/BackpagePix

Of course Tokyo 2020 was nothing like Beijing 2008 because there were no spectators in Japan. But for Johnson it was still a special experience.

“For me, that first day when we went to the hockey arena for practice was the moment I knew I was at the Olympics. Seeing those Olympic rings, the lights of the arena – being on the turf, it was goose-bumps stuff. Memories from watching Beijing came back and it felt unbelievable that I was there, at the Games.”

She could well go to her second Olympics in Paris in two years’ time and she has set her sights on doing exactly that.

First, though, she has to live up to coach Nkuliso “Inky” Zondi’s assertion that she is one of our matured players who will have to guide the younger ones coming into the squad.

”I’ve known Robyn for a long time, from when I used to coach against her teams and having worked with her in the national team. Now I’ve found her to be a fantastic role model who has an incredible work rate and she is technically very gifted. She is a passionate character with a true competitor’s edge.”

With 23 caps against her name, Johnson is sure to add a lot to those and achieve more than she could have imagined back when she was just a young girl admiring world superstars doing their thing out in Beijing.

She’s now an African champion, and Olympian and set to be a double World Cup player – proof that dreams do come true.

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