Bread and butter just wouldn’t do. Not on the breakfast table, not on the track where a routine 1,500m timing might not have secured a gold. So, Jinson Johnson loaded up on rice, paneer and chicken in the morning. “Rice,” he said, rolling his eyes. And he saved his sizzling run for dessert — the last 40m.
Two days ago, Jinson was disappointed after being pipped by Manjit Singh in the 800m. In his head, he had managed a swell race with a timing he had targeted. But a million opinions on him missing that gold reached him even when he shut the door to his room — Twitter is nothing short of nasty notes slipped under the door. “It was my first ever medal at Asian Games. I’d run a good race, it’s just that Manjit ran better. I was happy for him. I honestly didn’t feel very bad, I was grateful I’d run well,” he says, waving away all talk of ego.
The 1,500m was a fresh race, and Jinson woke up Thursday eschewing all routine plans. “I decided timings wouldn’t matter. Even if I’d run in 4 minutes, I needed to get that gold,” he laughed. He ate that rice, and gobbled up the race in 3:44.72s.
Nuances of Tuesday’s 800m race, like how he broke away after staying back, how he picked up pace like an Indonesian scooty ride and how he was chuckling about two Indians denying the rest of Asia the top two medals, all collapsed under this refrain: “Gold!”
So gold it was in what is considered a longer, tactical race by experts — chess on spikes. “My end in the 800m had been faulty, if you really want to pick faults. Since no one cared about how satisfied I was with the 800m, I decided I’ll not focus on timing and only go for gold,” he said.
On Thursday, Jinson let the Iraqi runner set the pace, coiling, breathing steady, waiting to explode. It was after crossing the third lap that he effectively took off. The national record holder, who was not allowed to feel nice about his first Asiad medal, went about eating up the track with such ferocity that he would emerge near the finish line like a cheetah kept hungry.
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His last kick was a thing of beauty — 800m and 1,500m are not about crunching numbers but out-thinking and knocking out a field, without ever making eye contact. It crossed his mind that now, with two Indians equipped with the nous of plotting athletics’s most cerebral races, the future could be exciting, world-beating, shattering Kenyan and Ethiopian dominance. “But then… I concentrated on the last spurt, nothing else. It was about calming the mind, and taking off. I can win gold with the right mindset,” he smiled.
Post the race, the satisfaction of netting the gold was wiped away for a few moments by his soft-toy rhino going missing. There was this innocence in Jinson looking frantically for the grey stuffed rhino given to the winners, like there was in assuming that a silver was enough Tuesday.
Life’s not ideal back home. Jinson’s state, Kerala, is flooded, over 400 have died. It’s nice to live in a bubble rimmed with gold, but Jinson knows there are starker tragedies than winning just a silver and bigger triumphs like saving lives, than flashing a V sign and biting into a medal on the podium. “I dedicate this to my state,” he said.