Johnson, who now has an NCAA outdoor championship to go with her indoor title earlier this year, came thru the first lap in a shockingly fast time of 57.34, with the rest of the field lagging except for Michigan senior Katie Erdman. Erdman, who had recorded the nation's fastest 800m time of 2:01.25 during the NCAA Mid-East Regionals,was expected to be Johnson's toughest competition.
Cal Bear fans had already seen several Top 8 "All-American" finishes by Cal athletes at the NCAAs - by Kevin Davis in the Men's 3000m Steeplechase (8th), high jumpers Ed Wright and Inika McPherson (both 6th), hammer thrower Carrie Johnson (6th), and an NCAA championship in women's discus by senior Kelechi Anyanwu.
Anyanwu stunned the competition on Day 3 with her first throw of 188-11 - not bad for a walk-on who had never thrown beyond 133 feet at Silver Creek High School in San Jose. With Johnson yet to compete in the women's 800m finals, the Cal women's team was looking at a possible first ever top-ten (national) finish.
College track and field fans knew that something special was brewing in the women's 800m final - because Cal's Johnson had run all season "from the front" with a slew of wire-to-wire victories and had never been pushed. But this time she was matched up against Erdman who had put in consistent winning performances all season long, so the race was billed as a knock-down-drag-out struggle for survival - and it did not disappoint.
Johnson, wearing her trademark flower in her hair, took the lead in the backstretch during the first lap - as has been her pattern - but something was different this time around. Alysia's 57.34 split at 400m was unprecedented - she had never done better than 58.5 during the season. At 500m the pack began to spread out as Johnson moved comfortably down the backstretch, followed closely only by Erdman one stride back.
Alysia Johnson and Coach Tony Sandoval
With 100m to go it turned into a drag race. Both Johnson and Erdman have excellent finishing speed - but it was Johnson who again shifted into another gear and claimed a two-stride lead with 50 meters to go. But then as the finish drew near, Erdman closed the gap as a build up of lactic acid took its toll on Johnson. At the line, Johnson leaned across the wire to win by a head, clocked at 1:59.29 as against Erdman's 1:59.35, for what may have been the closest sub-two minute 800m women's race in history (a video of the race is available at the web link below).
The top seven runners achieved times that would have finished ahead of last year's 800m winner, Rebekah Noble of Oregon.
Alysia's effort was a personal best, and was the first time in 17 years that Wisconsin's Suzy Favor-Hamilton's NCAA meet record of 1:59.11 had been challenged. Johnson's win also vaulted the Cal women's track and field team into 8th place overall at the NCAA championships, another first.
Many former track and field Olympians attended the NCAA meet, drawn by the intense and talented competition - people like Olympic gold medal decathlete Dan O'Brien, sprinters Carl Lewis, Tommie Smith, and John Carlos, and the former world record holder in the quarter-mile, Vallejo's own Lee Evans.
|Bear Insider Photo
NCAA Champion Alysia Johnson with 800m
National Champ James Robinson
Then, at the end of the day, it was 7-time national 800m champion and 2-time Olympian James Robinson who congratulated Alysia and Cal Coach Tony Sandoval and asked to have his picture taken with the Cal's latest national champion - and probable future Olympian.
Next on Johnson's calendar will be the USATF Outdoor Nationals in Indianapolis June 20th - 24th, where Alysia will compete alongside fellow Cal Bear teammates Mackenzie Pierce, Inika McPherson, Kelechi Anyanwu, Emily Strot, Ed Wright, Kevin Davis, David Torrence, and Gil Ghebray. Last year, Johnson placed 4th with a then personal best of 2:01.80
Click here to watch the Men's 100m and Women's 800m video at UTube.
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