The Bear Insider caught up with Miss Johnson just as she was arriving back home to the Bay Area.
It just keeps getting better and better for you, doesn't it? You won the NCAA Indoor title earlier this year and then Pac-10s, NCAA Regionals against Oregon's Rebekah Noble on her own home track, then an NCAA Outdoor Championship, now a USATF National Championship. Has this all sunk in yet?
It's been quite a ride. No doubt about it. I've been soaking it in slowly . . . Like a sponge baby!
I heard that there were a lot of agents swarming around you after your win at the USATFs . . . Are you considering turning Pro?
(Laughter) Ummmm, no.
Your race at the USATF Championships seemed rather similar to your NCAA Championship race where you narrowly edged Michigan senior, Katie Erdman. But this time, it was 29-year-old professional Hazel Clark being edged out.
Yes, I guess you could say that they were fairly similar. I was well aware that the last 100m was going to be tough. Tony (Coach Sandoval) told me before my race that Clark and Schmidt were going to be content just to sit back, stalking anyone at the front, and then the whole race would come down to the final 50m. Tony told me that I needed to keep another "gear" in reserve for a final push into the tape. He was right. I needed that extra gear to hold off Clark into the finish line.
Clark really looked like she had you with 20m left in the race. She caught you from behind and it looked like you might have "tied-up". Perhaps many in the stands thought that the veteran was going to pull through for the win. "Yep, there she goes . . . she's got the win now." . . . But somehow you had one final surge left.
Both of you lunged for the finish line - but you clearly had her beat with that final surge with 15m left. As you kicked into it, the expression on your face was priceless.
(See photo below by Kirby Lee and NBC videotape of race)
Meanwhile, Clark looked like she was "reaching for that last glass of water" before hitting the desert. You beat her 1:59.47 to her 1:59.60, a very small faction of a second. At that moment people in the stands cried out, "Oh . . . My . . . Wowww!" as both of you fell to the track.
Thanks. Again, I knew that I needed to have something left for this one.
It was another sub-2 minute race for me and believe it or not, I actually felt like I had more left in the tank. I didn't mind hitting the track as long as I got the win. It felt really good, actually! Last year I got 4th and it was truly a great learning experience for me. This year, I didn't feel nervous or fear anyone. I felt that I could compete with anyone and I was going for the win.
Your 96-year-old grandmother was at your NCAA Championship. Was your family again watching you at this USATF meet?
Yeah, both my mom and dad were there.
Was the weather a factor at all? The track looked wet and several thunderstorms had moved thru Indianapolis over the course of this meet.
No, the weather wasn't a factor at all. It wasn't raining during my race or anything and it was actually kind of warm out.
What did you have for breakfast? What is your pre-race routine like?
(Laughing) Are you kidding me? Ummmm . . . No one's ever asked me this question before! I usually have two eggs and some toast. Some protein. No juice, just water.
I usually get up five hours before my competition and go for a light jog; do some stretching and then meet up with my coach to do some race strategy and visualization.
Were you well rested heading into the NCAAs as well as this USATF meet? You've run a lot of races recently, counting all of the preliminary rounds, semi-finals, and finals. Was fatigue ever a factor during the month of June for you?
|Kirby Lee, Image of Sport
Price, Johnson, and Clark after
one lap in the Women's 800m
No, not at all. My coach and I set forth a training strategy earlier in the year so that I would be prepared to go deep into the post-season. All of my training was geared for this kind of scenario. I had "deposited" a lot in the bank and my body was feeling pretty well rested heading into these two national competitions. I was also able to avoid getting sick, which is something I had to deal with last year just before Regionals.
What did you think of Chanelle Price, the high schooler from Easton, Pennsylvania who chose to run in the open race with you, Hazel Clark, and Alice Schmidt? She could have run with the Juniors, but instead she chose to run with the "Big Dogs". As it was, she finished in 7th place in 2:02.38 just behind Michigan's Geena Gall - and she lead all of you thru the first lap and continued to run strong.
I was terribly impressed with her. She's got a lot of poise and composure. No doubt about it. The USATF meet is our national stage and she showed a lot of guts to take the lead. I think she's got an incredible future ahead of her, she really does.
In this particular race you did not take the lead as you have done all season long. Was this part of your pre-race strategy?
First off, I don't just take the lead just to lead. That's not my intent. I simply run the kind of race that my body is telling me to run. I knew that Clark and Chanelle Price like to take the lead. And actually, I thought that this was kind of a blessing for me as I didn't have to cut thru the wind. I felt very comfortable thru the entire first lap with them leading.
Did any of the elite athletes come up to congratulate you after your race and then later while you cooled down over on the practice field . . . people that you had never met before?
Oh yes. Lots of people came up to me to say "hi" and congratulate me. In fact, I finally got a chance to chat with Alice Schmidt (two-time NCAA champion and one of the tallest middle-distance runners around at 5-11 who turned pro with Adidas in 2005). Alice and I have never had much of a chance to really talk, so it was really nice just to be able to relax and finally get to know each other better, aside from the usual, "Hey, nice race."
Cal athletic director Sandy Barbour says she is tremendously proud of you. She's a pretty big track and field fan, actually. Have you been able to talk to her recently?
No, I haven't. But I have heard that she has been watching my races, including the USATF race. So that's pretty cool!
So now you're off to the Pan-Am Games in Brazil and then Osaka, Japan (late August) for the World Championships; your season just keeps on going.
Yes, it's like the season that doesn't end (laughing). I'm super excited and am jumping at the chance to go to Brazil for the Pan-Am Games. I've got my passport and everything. I can't wait. The funny thing is . . . it took me nearly 2.5 hours to fill out my application for the Pan-Am Games, and yet only about 20 seconds to fill out the application for the Worlds. Strange.
Was there a particular race during your career at Cal that you look back on as being key, a sign that you were about to have the dream season that you are now experiencing?
|Kirby Lee, Image of Sport
The heart of a Champion!
No, not really. My 4th place last year at this meet (the USATF Outdoor Nationals) against all the elite runners was definitely a confidence booster. I'm not going to lie about that. But in the overall scheme of things, I can't really single any specific race out.
We ask because earlier this season you broke the 23-year Cal school record formerly held by Louise Romo - who Coach Sandoval also coached to an NCAA Championship. There was also the big win in Eugene at the NCAA Regionals where you dominated and defeated defending NCAA champion Rebekah Noble on her home track. Those races had to be huge.
Well, I hate to sound cliché . . . but for me it has been more about my development as a runner. It's been a process, and that is what I am most proud of. You see, I feel that I have conquered the mental "game" of being a competitor at this level. For example, I knew that USATFs were going to be difficult. I came into this race with a lot of success from my collegiate season, but this race would be on yet another level.
But I have learned that you cannot afford to be afraid. You can't be scared even though this race is right up there with the Olympic Trials. The reason is that you use up far too much energy to your nerves and that is of no help at all. So, I really am quite proud of my ability to compete at this level, mentally as well as physically. Now don't get me wrong. This hasn't happened overnight. It's been a long developing process and it has taken all of the knowledge and experience that I have accumulated over the years to be able to compete at such a high mental level.
You have come a long way from winning the California State Meet for Canyon Country High back in 2004 - in 2:08.97
Yeah, it's been a long ride and I really feel like I've got more left in the "tank". And I'm still soaking it ALL up!
Television Broadcast Notes: - the IAFF World Championships in Athletics
Here is the TV schedule for Alysia competing in Osaka.
The programming is available on a "tape-delayed" basis.
Alysia's first 800m heat is August 25th.
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