Olympic Hopeful Q&A: Alysia Johnson

June 11, 2008

BERKELEY - CalBears.com recently spoke to senior Alysia Johnson about her dream of competing in the Summer Olympic Games. The 2007 U.S. champion is preparing to defend her 800-meter run title at the 2008 NCAA Outdoor Championships that run Wednesday through Saturday, June 11-14, in Des Moines, Iowa. She will attempt to join the U.S. team that will compete in Beijing, China, this August by taking part in the July 27-July 6 U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Track & Field in Eugene, Ore.

CalBears.com: What's the biggest sacrifice you've had to make to try to reach the Olympics?

Johnson: 'I can't think of something big that I've had to give up, because I want this so bad that I don't feel like I'm giving something up for it. Your lifestyle is totally different from the average person. There are so many things that my peers are able to do like eating, daily routines, sleeping habits, but everything is different for me. Being in college, I'm not really living the college lifestyle. I can't. Every day I have two to three workouts that I have to get done. There's no way that's going to get done to the best of my ability if I'm tired.'

CalBears.com: What are you looking forward to the most in Beijing if you make the team?

Johnson: 'Hearing the word Olympian by my name sounds great in itself. Along with that, I'd like to win a medal; that'd be awesome. I'm looking forward to the competition and seeing the Olympic Games for myself. You always see it on TV, but to witness it for myself, to be in it, to feel proud to wear the USA uniform as an Olympian is totally different.'

CalBears.com: How challenging is it to be in school, compete at Cal and train for the Olympics?

Johnson: 'Training is very difficult. Last year, going from my collegiate season to the national season wasn't particularly mentally difficult, but it was physically wearing on my body. This year, I know what my goals are; I know what I want to do. I want to make the team and I want to do well. I don't want to just go. I want to show up at the Games ready to do some damage. I have to pull back the reins a little bit on my collegiate season so I can work more on the national season.'

CalBears.com: When did your dream of being in the Olympics become a realistic goal?

Johnson: 'In my head, I always thought it was a realistic dream, but when it showed up on paper that it was an actual realistic dream was during my sophomore year. I knew that eventually I would try for the national team and be a potential Olympic candidate, but I didn't know it would be this soon. I showed up as a freshman and my PR was 2:08 in the 800. That's pretty good for a freshman coming in without all the training that you're going to get at the University.

'I ran a 2:01 by the end of my sophomore season, a couple of tenths off the school record. I knew then that we'd get on the ball, I'd maintain and I could be a potential candidate to make the Olympic team. Going off of last year's performances - breaking the school record, Louise Romo's record, a couple times was pretty legit, from somebody herself who was a very legit athlete - that was when the dream really was in my face, that `Oh, it's next year.' I'd have to say last season was really when it became a reality.'

CalBears.com: How much has Cal helped you try to attain this dream?Johnson: 'A great deal. Cal's helped me in several different ways. It's helped me grow as an individual, being able to take on the challenge of a rigorous schedule. With my coach, Tony Sandoval, he's definitely developed me as a person and as a runner. He's let me see the different aspects to running.'

CalBears.com: Besides Tony Sandoval, is there another role model who's helped you get to this point?

Johnson: There's a girl who went to my high school, her name's Lauren Fleshman. She has been a great role model to me as an influence and a mentor. She's been doing the whole professional thing since 2003 and she's doing well with it. It's nice to have somebody older who's going through the same thing as you. Tony is a great mentor in himself, but he's not going through `it.' He's not out there running right now, but he understands.

'Definitely my teammates David Torrence and Ed Wright have influenced me with our chemistry together, and we have the same focus and goals. I admire that. We have the same determination and will to achieve a goal that we really want.

'Lastly, Magdalena Lewy [the Cal assistant coach who has qualified for the 2008 U.S. Olympic team in the marathon]. She's out here every day with us and she has a three-year-old son. She's not just dealing with her own mental capacity, but also over 100 student-athletes. That has to be mentally wearing. For her to come out and be an animal at the Olympic trials, taking no prisoners, she's definitely a role model.'

CalBears.com: How did you first become interested in your sport?

Johnson: 'My oldest cousin ran track. All of my brothers and cousins started running after him. Our parents weren't pressuring us. My cousin Mark would be running and I'd be running alongside him on the track and we'd all be cheering him on while running on the track. Then you say to yourself, `I want to do that.'

'When I was young, it was just fun, playing games. I was basically doing jumps and sprints, but a couple days out of the week, I'd run longer just to say, `Yeah, I can run that long. That's not that far.' I just kept doing it and eventually my uncle, who was my coach at the time, asked me if I wanted to try the 800 and I said, `No.'

'I went and ran the 800, though, and the first time I ran a 2:26 when I was in the fifth grade. They kept telling me that I should just run the 800. I went to the Junior Olympics and ended up running a 2:19. From there it became my main event during my freshman year of high school.'

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