LOCALS IN LONDON
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Kibwe Johnson was a young high-schooler, trying to figure out whether his vast athletic talents fit better with football or track and field, the last time a U.S. hammer thrower won an Olympic medal.
The last American thrower won gold in the Games. It was well before that --in 1956.
Johnson gets a chance to change the Americans' Olympic fortune this summer.
The North Gwinnett grad, the nation's best hope in the hammer throw, is thrilled with making his first Olympic team, but he isn't happy with just getting to London.
"My goals will be cliche for a moment when I say I need to take it a step at a time, but ultimately my goal is not to just make the final," Johnson said while on a break from training camp in Portugal. "I'm competing for a medal. I moved to Canada to train with Dr. (Anatoliy) Bondarchuk (Olympic gold medalist and former world-record holder) after the (Olympic) Trials in 2008. Four years ago, the goal was 'Operation: Gold Medal.' And nothing has changed. Every throw, every lift, every bead of sweat the last four years was for London."
The USA Track and Field program has high hopes for Johnson, too. The Americans' last Olympic medalist in the hammer was Lance Deal, who won silver in Atlanta back in 1996. Harold Connolly won the last U.S. hammer gold in the 1956 Olympics.
Johnson clinched his Olympic berth with a first-place finish at Trials, tossing a season-best 74.97 meters (245 feet, 11 inches) even though he was recovering from a wrist injury.
The 31-year-old's bests are much better than his Trials tosses, highlighted by a throw of 80.31 (266-9) to win the 2011 USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships. It was the world's best throw of 2011 and the longest by an American hammer thrower since 2000.
He's also just the third American ever to cross the 80-meter plateau, a feat that pushes him to the forefront of the U.S. hammer hopes in London. He isn't far off Deal's 1996 American record of 82.52 (270-9).
"My current personal best of 80.31 meters is nothing to scoff at as far as my fellow competitors are concerned," Johnson said. "I have the best coach in the world preparing me to hopefully beat that mark. If I can eclipse it, I will be in great medal contention. My season started very slowly, but everything was done with London in mind. So I'm in a great place of positivity and I just need to take care of me, and my result will take care of itself."
Johnson also plans to soak up the Olympic experience, which is particularly satisfying after a disappointing miss of the Games back in 2008. The hammer throw competition ends Aug. 5, but he plans to stay in London through Aug. 13 to watch other events, at least as time allows --he still plans to train 10 times a week in England, just as he does in Canada, to prepare for his European circuit.
He also will spend time with his wife Crystal and his 3 -month-old daughter, Brooklyn, who will be at the Games. His 10-person entourage also includes his father, his younger brother (a 110-meter hurdler at Syracuse) and his grandparents, who have attended every Olympics but two since 1976.
"The Olympic stage is going to be so much fun," Johnson said. "I've been on two World Championships teams, but the Olympics is a different beast. Team USA is greatly expanded as our delegation now includes all sports that are part of the Olympic program and not just Athletics. I'm a team member with the NBAers, beach volleyball, pro tennis players, etc. I think that is very unique."
As fun as that will be, this trip is serious, too.
The goal is an Olympic medal, hopefully a gold one, that will help Johnson break the Americans' luck in his signature event.
"There is certainly a part of me that finally wants to put an end to the American mediocrity at world majors," Johnson said. "No one has made the final at the Olympics in over a decade. It's time to end that streak."
Anyone interested in helping North grad Kibwe Johnson with his training and travel expenses can visit https://fundrazr.com/campaigns/7KZt4