With 150 metres to go in the men’s 800 metres final, Ajay Kumar and Sajeesh Joseph upped the pace. The two runners were on the shoulder of Jinson Johnson, the country’s rising star in the event. If either one of them could pip Johnson to the finish line, it would be a major upset. Johnson was making his first appearance at a national meet since winning four medals at the continental level — a silver at the Asian Athletics Championships in Wuhan and a golden hat-trick at the Asian Grand Prix Series.
In a couple of months, the 24-year-old had gone from being a promising youngster to the man to beat. Sensing that Ajay and Sajeesh were snapping at his heels, Johnson found that extra gear which took him home with a timing of 1:51.02 seconds. Johnson set the pace from the start but at the end of the first lap it was clear he was coasting along, completing the 400 in 56 seconds.
When up against tougher competition Jinson clocks between 52 and 53 seconds. He had run faster in Wuhan and during the Asian GP held at three different venues in Thailand, but in the absence of a challenger at the 55th National Inter-State Championships, Johnson didn’t have to push himself to the limit. Here he was only attempting to reiterate his class to his peers.
Johnson made a breakthrough at the Federation Cup in Mangalore in May when he won gold in both the 1,500 and the 800. In the shorter event, the Junior Commissioned Officer (JCO) posted at the artillery centre in Hyderabad had set a personal best of 1:47.58, which gave him a berth in the Indian team for the Wuhan event, incidentally his first-ever senior international meet. Since then he has clocked three sub 1:50.00 timings, including a 1:49.69 to win silver in China during a steady downpour.
With exactly a year to go for the qualification period for the Rio Games to close, Johnson wants to improve his personal best by two seconds.
“I started off by running the 1,500 metres but also competed in 800. I am confident of perform well in both these events but currently I am running the longer race to maintain endurance, which in turn will help me go faster in the 800,” he says. Since the Federation Cup in Mangalore, Johnson has not been able to take a break from his training-cum-competition schedule. Next up is the services championships in Hyderabad, to be held in August, followed by the World Military Games in October.
“My target is to meet the qualifying standards for Rio. First, I want to qualify for the World Military Games. I am confident I will be able to get closer to the qualifying standards for Olympics as I compete in more international meets,” Johnson, who is from Chakkittapara, Calicut district, adds. The qualifying mark for men’s 800m at Rio Olympics is 1:45.80.
His coach at the Army Sports Institute in Pune and at the national camp, Mohammad Kunji, retained only Johnson from a pool of 800 m runners, who he first started training in 2011. “Among those from that batch, I continue to coach only Johnson. There were others who were physically as capable as him but his determination and focus makes him stand apart. He is not someone who will give excuses. In the army he was promoted from sepoy to subedar to JCO. He is an athlete with a bright future,” Kunji says.
Johnson is set to take a break and visit his home town before heading to Hyderabad for selection trails for the World Military Games. “People have been calling up from Chakkittapara because they want to fix dates to felicitate him. We (army) have not sanctioned him leave but he will be given a break now to go home.”
Day 2 highlights:
Men: 200m: 1. Dharambir Singh (Haryana) 21.34 seconds; 2. Vikas Gulia (Delhi) 21.55; 3. Rahul Kumar (Uttar Pradesh) 21.94. 800m: 1. Jinson Johnson (Kerala) 1:51.02; 2. Ajay Kumari Sarohi (Uttar Pradesh) 1:51.36; 3. Sajeesh Joseph (Kerala) 1:52.43. 400m hurdles: 1. Jithin Paul (Kerala) 50.55; 2. Bastin Joseph (Assam) 52.35; 3. Vikas Chandran (Manipur) 52.39. Triple jump: 1. Renjith Maheswary (Kerala) 16.39 metres; 2. Arpinder Singh (Punjab) 16.30; 3. S Mohd Zuber (Tamil Nadu) 15.65. Javelin throw: 1. Neeraj Chopra (Haryana) 77.33m; 2. Krishnanand (Uttar Pradesh) 71.09; 3. Ajay Kumar (Rajasthan) 70.43. Decathlon: 1. Amolak Singh (Gujarat) 6370 points; 2. Thangarasu (Tamil Nadu) 6349; 3. Raneesh V V (Kerala) 6336.
Women: 200m: 1. Srabani Nanda (Odisha) 23.92 seconds; 2. Himashree Roy (Bengal) 24.93; 3. Priyanka Panwar (Uttar Pradesh) 25.01. 800m: 1. Tintu Luka (Kerala) 2:03.23; 2. Sushma Devi (Haryana) 2:05.05; 3. Gomathi (Tamil Nadu) 2:07.00. 400m hurdles: 1. Santosh Kumari (Haryana) 1:01.06; 2. Sayana P O (Kerala) 1:02.88; 3. M Loganayaki (Tamil Nadu) 1:03.15. High jump: 1. Sahana Kumari (Karnataka) 1.80 metres; 2. Jyoti (Haryana) 1.70; 3. Mallika Mondal (Bengal) 1.70. 20km walk: 1. Rani Yadav (Uttar Pradesh) 1:49:30.40; 2. Priyanka (Uttar Pradesh) 1:54:43.70; 3. Femi George (Kerala) 2:06:38.40.