Athletics: Benjamin speeds back from brink to take on world's best in Helsinki

'I couldn't stand up. I couldn't even lift my head off the pillow or I got screaming headaches', he tells Mike Rowbottom

Four months ago the man who recently beat the Olympic 400m champion in a sub-45sec time was reduced to lying on the floor of his home in Burnham in Berkshire after a back injection to release a joint had gone wrong.

Benjamin began suffering from a severe headache and vomiting as fluid leaked from his spinal column, altering the balance with fluid surrounding his brain.

"I was taken home, and I was sick again as soon as I came through the front door," he recalled. "I couldn't stand up. I couldn't even lift my head off the pillow or I got screaming headaches. I was home for about a week, but it wasn't getting any better. I could only eat snack food because I couldn't get up to cook."

Benjamin's father Mike, a Professor of Anatomy at Cardiff University, insisted his son seek more help and he was admitted to the Wellington Hospital in London. But things got worse before they got better: an attempt to seal the breach in Benjamin's spinal column with an injection of his blood exacerbated the problem.

"My headache didn't go away even when I was lying down. I had to have painkilling injections for two days. I couldn't even lift my head to sip water, so they had to put me on a drip."

Meanwhile, rumours were rife about the 23-year-old Welshman's plight. From his hospital bed he read reports that his career was over after he had suffered a stroke. Roger Black, the former Olympic 400m silver medallist and double European champion who has acted as Benjamin's mentor since 2004, was told he had had a heart attack.

Benjamin has always researched his various injuries on the internet but this time he had to ask his girlfriend, the 1500m runner Natalie Lewis, to make enquiries. "She said to me, 'Oh my God, there are cases of dural leaks lasting seven years.' That was it. I just had to wait and see what happened."

Benjamin remained in hospital for a fortnight before he recovered to the point where he was allowed to go for a five-minute jog - at which point he pulled his calf muscle.

Having Black to turn to at such times - the two were put in touch by Benjamin's coach Tony Lester, who had helped Black improve his sprinting technique shortly before he won his Olympic silver medal in 1996 - has proved hugely beneficial.

"We have a lot in common," Benjamin said. "We come from a similar background - Roger's dad was a doctor - and we've suffered from a lot of injuries. Roger has been there and done it, and we talk about once a fortnight. He can discuss so many aspects with me."

Black said: "Tim is always on a knife-edge with injury, just like I was. I understand how he feels. When I was a young runner I used to be around Daley Thompson and Seb Coe. You always listen to people who have done what you want to do. But it's a case of Tim coming to me whenever he wants to."

Immediately after his startling run on 22 July at Crystal Palace - ironically, the place where he had that fateful injection - Benjamin reacted defiantly. Having run 44.75sec from lane seven to overwhelm the top Americans, including the Athens champion Jeremy Wariner, he was entitled to insist that the talent which had earned him the World Youth 200m title in 1999 and the European Junior 400m title two years later had never deserted him.

"The last three to four years have been wrecked by injuries and I've still managed to be the British No 1. I've wanted to burst sometimes, because these people don't know the hell I've been through. I didn't train this year between January and May, and now I have run 44.75. You can imagine the confidence that gives me."

Black never doubted Benjamin's ability to attain sub-45sec territory this year after he ran 45.11sec in his first race of the season, barely two weeks after getting back into spikes. "Watching Tim over the last 50 metres at Crystal Palace was really exciting," he said. "Tim has had sprinting technique ingrained in him as a youngster, which means he is technically more efficient when fatigue sets in. I used to let my hips sink, and my shoulders would hunch up. But he didn't crumble."

Reaching the semi-finals at the Olympics last year offered Benjamin valuable experience for the coming challenge. "Things are slightly different for me than they were going into the Olympics," he said. "There's a bit more expectation on me. It might happen for me in Helsinki - I know I can run faster. And if it doesn't happen there, it will in the next couple of years."

Black is also cautious - but he cannot suppress a sense of anticipation. "I don't know what is going to happen in Helsinki," he said. "Realistically, Wariner is likely to be running low 44s, and Tim could even run 44.5 and not medal. But Tim is now going into a major championships, and he's fit and he's beaten all the fastest people in the world. That's a lovely place to be."

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Powdered colors are displayed for sale at a market ahead of the Holi festival in Bhopal, India
techHere's what you need to know about the riotous occasion
Arts and Entertainment
Larry David and Rosie Perez in ‘Fish in the Dark’
theatreReview: Had Fish in the Dark been penned by a civilian it would have barely got a reading, let alone £10m advance sales
News
Details of the self-cleaning coating were published last night in the journal Science
science
News
Approved Food sell products past their sell-by dates at discounted prices
i100
News
Life-changing: Simone de Beauvoir in 1947, two years before she wrote 'The Second Sex', credited as the starting point of second wave feminism
peopleHer seminal feminist polemic, The Second Sex, has been published in short-form to mark International Women's Day
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Assistant / Credit Controller

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are an award-winning digit...

Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform Engineer - VMware / SAN / Tier3 DC

£45000 - £55000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform En...

Recruitment Genius: Purchasing Assistant

£10000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Ledger Assistant

£17000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable