Johnson Jumping Past The Competition During Indoor Track and Field Season

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Photo by Bill Becerra

Another week has gone by in the indoor winter track and field season and White Plains junior Thomas Johnson continues to show why he is one of most successful and talented athletes in the state of New York.

On Sunday at the Section I Class A Championships at The Armory Track and Field Center in New York City Johnson won both the long jump and triple-jump competitions. His triple-jump result, 45 feet 8.75 inches, was so far that he beat the athlete in second place by over five feet.

These types of accomplishments are nothing new for Johnson, who is originally from the Republic of Sierra Leone in West Africa and moved to the United States in 2002.

To understand Johnson as a person and his skills as an athlete you only need to look at his first time attempting the difficult triple jump in a big competition rather than practicing it first.

“The triple jump is actually a funny story,” said Johnson with a smiling grin. “At the Westchester County Meet my freshman year I was supposed to do the long jump and a couple of relays but while warming up my teammate and I missed the entry for the long jump. I told coach, ‘Just put me in the triple jump and I’ll see how I’ll do in it.’ I ended up coming into third place. I jumped a 40 (feet) in my first jump.  Two meets later I jumped a 44 (feet).”

White Plains Boys Track Coach Lamont McCormick believes that maybe fate played a hand in Johnson discovering and succeeding at the triple jump.

“That usually how life works. You miss something and another thing comes your way. You do well at it and the rest is history,” said McCormick.

For the average person not familiar with the triple jump, go to Youtube and watch some of the videos. This will make you truly appreciate what Johnson did when he entered the event with a major meet without ever practicing the difficult technique used to do the jump.

In short, the triple jump encompasses four different movements. First the initial running down the platform, then hopping, skipping and finally jumping into the sand pit. There are certain rules on what leg you need to land and takeoff for a jump to be considered legal.

A successful triple-jump is similar to a figure skater completing a certain jump on the ice because there are so many rules on how it must be done and a very small room for error.

Johnson started competing at running at an early age but didn’t get into long jumping until eighth grade at Highlands Middle School, when he was encouraged by the track coaches to try long jumping because of his agility.

Last spring during the outdoor season Johnson put together a very impressive resume of championships and achievements. He won the Westchester County Championship (Long Jump and the Triple Jump), then he won the Section I Class A Championships (Long Jump and Triple Jump). He took 2nd and 3rd in the triple jump and long jump respectively at the state qualifying meet and then ended the 2011 outdoor track and field season by finishing 14th at the state championship in both events.

McCormick believes one of the characteristics that set Johnson apart from other athletes he has coached in the past is how much Johnson has researched the sport of triple jumping.

“Basically what it is with Tom, he’s so dedicated and passionate about his sport. A lot of athletes don’t do a lot of research of whose done well in their respective event, but Tom lives and breaths the triple jump,” Said McCormick.

After doing so well last spring Johnson had his goals set high coming into winter indoor schedule. “Coming into the season my goal was to at least hit a 23 (feet) for the long jump and I wanted to hit a 49 (feet) for the triple jump. Right now I’m at a 47. I wanted to become the state champ. Right now those hopes are still alive,” said Johnson.”

The White Plains track and field coaches have been very conservative when it comes to Johnson’s jumping. To help conserve his energy for later in the season he wasn’t entered in many of the jumping competitions in the early part of the 2011-2012 indoor season.

His first jumping competition this indoor season came at the end of December at the CHSAA Varsity Invitational where he ended ninth in the long jump competition. Since that competition Johnson simply has been on fire everywhere he competes.

He began the 2012 calendar year by winning the long jump and triple jump competitions at the Rockland Coaches Invitational. A week later he won the high jump, long jump and triple jump events at the League IIB Championships. In his next meet at the Westchester County Championships he won the long and triple jumps and took second in the high jump.

With all this success Johnson looks like he doesn’t feel the pressure of the competitions and loves joking with coach McCormick as if they were big brother and younger brother rather than coach and athlete.

“He’s relaxed and he is basically exactly where we want him to be as far as triple-jumping 47 feet and long jumping 21 feet. So his confidence level is up and when his confidence level is up he is more relaxed,” McCormick said.

Another reason McCormick believes Johnson is enjoying such a successful indoor season has been the fact that the winter weather has been very mild which has allowed the White Plains track program to have more practices outdoors compared to other winters.

“Normally this time of year we’re stuck running in the hallways, they’re dealing with shin splints running on the hard concrete floor,” said McCormick. “Now we’re outside jumping in the pit and it seems that he is almost in spring season shape because we’re out here to use the actual long jump and get his steps right and actually go through the jumps.”

Johnson enjoys the competitions and knows that there are many athletes in the state who are as ambitious as him at these big meets

“As I move up, the competition definitely gets harder because they’re people just like me. They’re coming in with the same mentality bringing their ‘A’ game and trying to do big things to try to get to the state meet,” said Johnson.

In fact when it comes to his competitors Johnson explains that he has a healthy competitive and friendly relationships with the people who are trying to beat him in the same events.

“Its competitive but at the same time with me and the athletes that I compete against it’s a friendship. We have friendly relationships. We get along well. We give each other tips. I try to help out my opponents as much as I can. They try to help me out.

As far as Johnson’s ultimate goals in his sport Johnson already has something in his mind. “Hopefully if I’m healthy and I continue performing the way I’ve been performing, getting better each season, I would like to compete in the 2016 Olympics,” said Johnson

“He can go far,” said McCormick referring to Johnson’s potential in future years. “He already has D1 (Division I Colleges) recruits looking at him. The school record is phenomenal; I believe it is 50-feet and he definitely has potential to break that.”

The next event for Johnson will be the Section I State Qualifier Meet on February 24th.

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