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Allen Johnson ready to run in Stuttgart

1 February 2008
www.wcsn.com

Allen Johnson Allen Johnson
By Dave Ungrady

American hurdler Allen Johnson had hoped the 2004 Athens games would offer a chance to reclaim the Olympic gold medal he failed to defend at the 2000 Sydney games and the glory that came along with his triumph at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. Johnson had run the fastest 110-meter hurdles race in the world prior to Athens and relished his role as the U.S. track and field team captain.

But his dream faded as he fell to the track after hitting the 10th hurdle in a qualifying heat. It marked the first time in three attempts that Johnson failed to make an Olympic final in the event.

"I still don't know what happened," Johnson said on Thursday by phone from Lenz, Austria, where he had run in an indoor meet. "I just came up on the hurdle, hit it funny and went down. I was feeling good. I was in the best shape of my life. No doubt in my mind I was ready to run really, really fast."

Johnson admitted that the mishap did not fuel an ambition to compete in another Olympic games. But it has ignited a desire to win Olympic gold "a little more," he said. To that end, the 36-year-old is trying to qualify for his fourth consecutive Olympics, a record matched by about two dozen other U.S. athletes.

Johnson has begun his charge to a possible berth in Beijing with a return to indoor competition for the first time since 2005. Saturday, Johnson is scheduled to run the 60-meter hurdles at the Sparkassen Cup in Stuttgart, Germany, against, among others, 2007 World Athletics Final champion Dayron Robles of Cuba.

Thursday, at a regional indoor meet in Linz, Austria, Johnson finished second behind Robles and clocked 7.62 seconds.

"I felt a little rusty," he said. "But overall, I'm happy. It's still early. This is how I normally feel this time of the year. But I wish they had two rounds. This time of the year, the more you can run, the better."

Johnson expects to run a preliminary heat and a final in Stuttgart and hopes to finish the first race in at least 7.60. He will share the spotlight in Stuttgart with a handful of other Olympic champions, including Yuriy Borzakovskiy of Russia in the 800 meters; Meseret Defar of Ethiopia in the 3,000 meters, Carolina Kluft of Sweden in the long jump, Tim Mack of the United States in the pole vault and Maria Mutola of Mozambique in the 800 meters.

Johnson hopes to experience a smooth progression towards the U.S. Olympic Trials this summer. "At this point in my training, I'm not ready to run my fastest, but I'm ready to run fast," he said. "This indoor season I would be surprised if I ran 7.3, but wouldn't be surprised if I ran 7.45. My goal is to run anything under 7.5."

Johnson also hopes to stay injury free for the first time since winning the U.S. 110-meter hurdle title in 2005 with a time of 12.99 and finishing third at the world championships that year. A hamstring injury slowed him down in 2006, but he still ran 12.96 to win the World Cup title and finish the season ranked second in the world. Severe calf problems hampered Johnson in 2007. He finished seventh at the U.S. championships, failing to qualify for the outdoor world championships for only the second time since 1995, and managed a season's best 13.23.

Johnson, who turns 37 on March 1, feels his advancing years have had little impact on his recent physical setbacks. "I believe the thought that you automatically slow down when you get older is a myth," he said. "When you get older, there are limitations, but peak performance is not one of them. You need a little more time to recover and you're more susceptible to injuries, but when I'm healthy I'm just as fast as I've even been."

Since hiring Sylvanues Hepburn as his new coach after the 2004 Olympics, Johnson has adjusted his training. "Now, everything is more technical," he said. "Before, everything was about working hard and running good workouts. Now the quality of workouts is better. I'm more thorough with my craft. Technically, I'm better. I've been working on a lot of technical things the past four years that I wasn't doing since I was 26 years old. Now I'm making sure I'm staying tall going over the hurdles. I just wasn't aware I wasn't doing it."

Through successes on the track, Johnson has built a comfortable life. His contract with his major sponsor, Nike, expires after the Beijing Olympics. Johnson expects to compete in 2009, but beyond that his competitive future is a wildcard.

"As long as I feel good and I'm having fun with it, I want to keep at it," he said. "I don't have a set date to stop. I really enjoy going to practice and meets. If I could do this another 20 years, I would."



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Johnson admitted that the mishap did not fuel an ambition to compete in another Olympic games. But it has ignited a desire to win Olympic gold "a little more," he said. To that end, the 36-year-old is trying to qualify for his fourth consecutive Olympics, a record matched by about two dozen other U.S. athletes. " target="digg"> Digg


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