Arguably the best 110 meter hurdler has decided to hang up the spikes after 15 plus years in the professional track and field game.
Allen Johnson is a great guy on and off the track and the epitome of a classy individual. We all know of the countless U.S. Championships, World Championship titles and ’96 Olympic Gold, but that wasn’t the Allen Johnson I knew personally.
I only was around for the U.S. Title he won in 2005, I’ve only seen videos on youtube of his Olympic and World title races and only witnessed two of his record 11, sub 13 performances.
The very first time I payed any attention to track and field on an international level was the 2000 Olympic Games. I had just entered college and had no knowledge of who was good in the hurdle event. This was before the youtube era and I honestly didn’t have any desire to look into the sport, although I had received a full scholarship to run track. Going in to college, I couldn’t tell you who the best collegiate track programs were, let alone who any of the good individual athletes were on the professional stage.
While in my dorm room passing between classes, the first round of the hurdles in the 2000 Olympic Games were just starting, so I tuned in. They pumped Allen up, he was the defending champion and had been on a pretty good roll, but the guy that I liked the most was Terrence Trammell. The commentators were making such a big deal out of Terrence making it to the Olympics because he was still in college and he accomplished something that was so major, making the U.S. Olympic Team in the 110 hurdles as a collegian. That’s when I found out that the hurdle event was dominated by Americans and it was viewed as a downright amazing feat that Terrence made it being he was so young. So I figured, I want to do something amazing too and I thought that since he was still in college, I would get to race him in the upcoming season and it would have been cool to meet him.
Fast forward to 2004, up to this point I had never met any elite 110 hurdlers until I met Dominique Arnold during the indoor season of my senior year at a meet at Penn State. He was a really cool guy, we sat down for a minute after the race and talked like we had been friends for a while.
I went to the indoor US Championships that year and Dominique introduced me to Allen Johnson along with several other Olympians at a practice session. By that time, I knew exactly who Allen was along with all the things he accomplished, I was in amazement. When I shook his hand, the first thing I thought to myself was “This guy is a lot smaller than I thought.” You know how in your head you have a vision of how somebody looks or would act and I had a vision in my mind that he was a larger than life giant!
We conversed for a little while by the pole vault pit and then I asked him for his autograph and he told me no. I asked him why not and he said “I think I am going to be seeing a lot of you around”. I had no idea what he meant by that, but it made all the sense in the world to me a few years later because I was seeing him at a whole bunch of meets.
He says he doesn’t remember that, but I do. That’s why it’s important to me to try to interact positively with fans because they remember every last thing! That meeting with Allen may have not been a big deal to him, but it meant the world to me, so I try to remember that when I meet fans because you never know how you may affect them.
The first time I met Terrence was in ’04 at the Olympic Trials in the meet headquarter hotel lobby, it wasn’t much of a meeting, I said “hey man what’s up?” and he looked at me and just kept walking. I thought to myself “damn that sucks”. That was my favorite hurdler at the time, so after that, I didn’t like him that much anymore, but after knowing him for a while now, he’s actually a cool guy to hang with.
It’s funny because I can tell you my very first encounter with every hurdler like Allen, Dominique, Terrence, Larry Wade, Liu Xiang, Robles, Jack Pierce, Roger Kingdom etc.
When I first met Allen, I had absolutely no knowledge of professional track and field. When I went to that US Indoor Championship, I thought everybody that had a Nike or adidas or whatever their affiliation might have been next to their name, trained together like a team. I also thought that they only ran during Olympic years and they had regular jobs the other years. This was my senior year in college, in one year, I was going to be joining their ranks, pretty sad when I think back on it.
But between my conversations with him and Dominique, they cleared up all those misnomers I had. Allen was the one that really instilled in me that I needed to become a student of the event and the sport as a whole, if I was really entertaining the idea of going to the next level. So I did it to some extent, went back and tried to learn things about some of the histories best hurdlers and watch their performances.
In ’04, I returned to my dorm room to go to sleep after a grueling two-a-day football practice, I cut on my TV and the Olympic hurdle heats were going on. I sat and watched. The first thing I saw was Allen fall, I was devastated! I never watched another minute of those Olympic Games. It wasn’t until I had moved to Florida in February of ’05 that I found out a Chinese guy won the gold medal and ran the world record. I was in shock, I had never heard of this guy, so once again youtube came in handy.
I only knew Allen by what I saw on TV as well as the few minuets we actually talked, but when I joined the professional ranks, that’s when I actually could say I knew who Allen Johnson was.
In 2005, the very first big meet I got invited to was the Reebok Grand Prix in New York, that was the first time I lined up in a race with Allen. I think I spent more time watching what he was doing in his warm up than I did warming up myself. After the competition, I got the opportunity to sit down with him and go over race film. His knowledge of what was going on blew me away and I made a mental note that if I wanted to be any good, I had to step my game up not only physically but mentally as well.
In ’06 he got hurt, but came back for Zurich and that’s when I actually got to see the non-hurdling side of Allen, how much of a jokester he is and how he kept everything light. He told me he was hoping to just run 13.30 and he went out and won the meet, destroying a great field out in lane seven. I was next to him in lane eight and he dragged me to a great performance as well. Later on that year at the Berlin Golden League, was the first time I had ever beaten Allen.
In ’07 again in Zurich, we walked the streets and talked about everything. His fall at the Olympics, contract stuff and training as well as non track stuff such as his love of motorcycles and his family, you know he had jokes too.
From that point on, we’ve been good friends. I will hit him up on the Blackberry and see what’s up, he’ll hit me up and congratulate me on my performances. We’ve even spent time on the Blackberry breaking down races on youtube.
When I came back last year off my injury, he was at my first meet back and we sat down in the dining area for hours just catching up and he was telling me about listening to my body more and becoming more in tune with exactly what I’m doing.
I have learned so much valuable information from Allen over the years. He went from a guy I was in awe of and badly wanted his autograph as a collegian, to a person I can call up at the drop of a hat. When he told me he was hanging up the spikes, I couldn’t believe it. I often joked telling him he couldn’t retire until I decided I was going to retire.
His status message on Blackberry is “I rode it ‘til the wheels fell off, literally” and that he did. I can only hope for the same type of longevity in my career. Allen had a great presence on the circuit and he’ll be missed for sure. Now that leaves my training partner and great friend Aubrey Herring as the oldest active American hurdler. He had a profound impact on my career and hopefully by the time I retire, somebody will say the same about me.
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