Let's Discus(s)... Sun Devil Jacquelyn Johnson (Track & Field)

Aug. 14, 2008

by Jason Lewis

Chances are, you have heard something about the upcoming Olympic Games in Beijing, China, unless you make your home in a deep cave that has no Internet, television, radio or telegraph line. And if that is the case, than the 29th Olympiad began on August 8th in Beijing. Now that we have that out of the way, we can move on.

This may sound rather opinionated, but the Olympics are sort of a big deal; a really big deal. People's dreams are either fulfilled or destroyed by the Olympics. Do you know what happened in 1980? The United States and several other countries boycotted the Moscow Olympics. Can you imagine how many athletes were crushed by this event?

It might be hard to believe, but many athletes do not compete in order to make money; certainly not track and field athletes. The main goal of their career is to be one of three athletes sent to the Games in their event and chase that ever-elusive gold medal. Take a brief moment to wrap your mind around this; one gold medal is given away every four years. Over 29 Olympics contests, which span 112 years, less than 30 athletes can call themselves the Olympic champion of a specific event. Considering that the average elite athlete may be lucky to participate in two games over their careers, the odds seem insurmountable. Enter Jacquelyn Johnson.

Johnson is a local product hailing from Yuma, Ariz., which is right between middle and nowhere on an Arizona road map. Her high school career consisted of her winning just about every title she competed for, setting several state records in the process. No big deal, right?

Apparently unsatisfied by her stellar prep career, Johnson came to Arizona State and proceeded to win national titles in the pentathlon (the pentathlon is an indoor multi-event consisting of five individual events) and the heptathlon. Johnson's collegiate career was highlighted by her fourth NCAA heptathlon title, which was also her seventh individual title.

Once again, Johnson decided to step out of her own shadow and went out and made the U.S. Olympic Team, a feat few athletes achieve in their career, let alone at Johnson's age.

On making the Olympic team, Johnson said: 'It's a dream come true. It's been a dream since I was about 11.'

She seems rather humbled by the experience, though not in awe. Johnson exudes a type of confidence that only comes with experience and it appears that her goals are clear.

'Like everyone else, I want to go there and try to get a medal,' Johnson said. 'I'm a competitor, so I'm just out there to compete. I'm out there to pr (personal record) or hopefully get close to my best score.'

It would be hard to count her out since Johnson has shown a clear improvement in the event (actually several events for that matter).

For those not in the know, Johnson trains with multi-event legend Dan O'Brien, who volunteers his time at Arizona State. On having O'Brien as a coach, Johnson says, 'He's a great inspiration. He's also a great person to be around. He's been there, he's done that and he knows where you are mentally and physically so he can give you the right advice when you're down or not doing so well.'

Not that she'll need very much coddling. On the contrary, Johnson feels ready for just about anything and confident that Beijing will be a positive experience.

'Every facility I've been to has been different, but you find a way to adjust,' Johnson said. 'It's nothing I can't handle.'

If Johnson intends to handle this championship in a fashion similar to previous ones, the United States will be very well represented in the heptathlon. Still, the naysayer may scoff at Johnson's ability to compete at the Olympic level. You know the kind of person; the one who told the entire playground that the Easter Bunny was just a guy in a suit. This wet blanket may not believe in the talent Johnson posses, but it does not faze her in the least.

'I'm just trying to do me,' Johnson quipped. 'I'm still Jackie Johnson who went to Yuma; a Yuma High Criminal.'

This would be an opportune time to insert a witty pun about Yuma High School's mascot, The Criminal. Yes it would be.

Off the track, Johnson enjoys a few of the simpler things in life.

'I love spending time with my friends and family,' says Johnson. 'Disney movies are my favorite. The old-school Disney Movies are my favorites. Beauty and The Beast, Cinderella, Jungle Book, those are my favorites. I have almost every Disney movie out there. I need to collect a couple more, but I have most of them.'

While she has certainly grown-up on the track, it appears as if Johnson has no desire to let go of her inner-child. The utter magnitude of Johnson's success can make a person forget how relatively young she really is. All signs point towards a long, prosperous career with Johnson seeming confident of future Olympic appearances.

'I plan on being there [The Olympics] in 2012 and 2016,' Johnson said. 'If I have one more in me at that point, I'm going to do one more. I'm young enough to get three in.'

Time is certainly on her side. Yes, it is. And the track and field world will certainly enjoy that time with her.

Editor's note: The: Let's Discus(s)... series is written by current Sun Devil student-athlete Jason Lewis, a member of ASU's NCAA Championship Track & Field program. A local product of Mountain Pointe High School in Phoenix, Lewis competes in the throwing events, including the shot put, hammer, weight throw and, of course, the discus. The school's record holder in the indoor weight throw, Lewis is entering his junior season of competition in 2009.

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