Indian athletics will have the best batch in 2020 Olympics: Jinson Johnson
Jinson Johnson hogged the limelight in April 2018 when he smashed a 23-year-old national record in 1,500m. The stage was the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games. Although he finished fifth and India didn’t add a medal to their tally, the 27-year-old didn’t take too long to change that.
Jinson went on to clinch the 1,500m gold and 800m silver at the Jakarta Asian Games but not before he had rewritten the record books yet again. This time, it was Sriram Singh’s 42-year-old record in 800m. It was the very event that had earned him the ticket to Jakarta. And now, he’s tipped as a medal prospect for the 2020 Olympics.
In a candid chat, Johnson spoke of his journey so far.
What prompted you to take up athletics and especially middle-distance running?
I used to play cricket when I was young, but not professionally. It was the same with athletics. I started as a professional around 2007 in my first state competition. My village Chakkittapara wasn’t that modern that one could take up athletics professionally. Cricket and football — one can play them anywhere just for fun but no proper training as such. Then I met K Peter, who was a university level coach. He trained me for a year. In 2007, I bagged both the state and national gold medals. I then had to leave my village for further training.
How did the transition happen?
In 2009, I joined the army which had a lot of facilities... synthetic tracks and all… Till 2012, I trained at the Artillery Centre in Hyderabad and then earned medals at Senior Nationals. Then I went to the Army Sports Institute and met Kunhi Mohammed after which I joined the national camp and trained under Kunhi sir. In between, I won silver at the 2015 Asian Championships, participated at the 2016 Rio Olympics and clinched bronze at the 2017 Asian Championships. I also won three Asian Grand Prix gold and two silver medals.
Did you ever believe you had the requisite skills to break national records, clinch medals at international events?
These Asian Games medals aren’t the results of what I’ve done in the past two years. All this started way back during my young days. While I never thought I’d come this far, it gradually grew from district to state to nationals. I always wanted to wear the India jersey. When I got to wear it, I got medals along with it.
Your medals also increase expectations…
That’s always there. Way too much! But being an athlete, I know higher the pedestal we fall from, the more we’re bound to get hurt. Now, there’s more responsibility, thus I need to train more, stay focused.
Have you started working on your timings for Tokyo?
I want to do better than what I did in Rio, especially in 1,500m. I feel there’s a prospect for gold since the defending champion clocked 3:50.00 to clinch it. My best is 3:37.86. It’s a tactical event and anything can happen. My aim is to improve on my personal best. You can’t run at full throttle from the beginning and win. The race happens only in the last 300m-400m. The thing is, at Olympics or Asian Games, no one is bothered about timing. Winning a medal is what everyone aims for.
You’ve never worked with foreign coaches...
I’m happy with how I’ve been performing at the moment and wouldn’t want to change things.
India’s chances at the Olympics in athletics...
It’s going to be the best batch in athletics section (that participates at the Tokyo Olympics). Dharun (Ayyasamy) recently broke the 400m hurdles record, then there’s (Mohammed) Anas, Neeraj Chopra in javelin, Arpinder Singh and so on. There have been a number of national records as well. It’s a great unit.
Will you take part in both 800m and 1500m at Olympics?
No, I would want to focus on just 1500m. But I will participate in 800m events next year nonetheless.
Has your journey helped your village?
Oh yes! It has developed a great sporting culture now. Medals, jobs, sports… They’ve been greatly motivated. Even my parents now know a thing or two about athletics nowadays.
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