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North grad Johnson bound for London with U.S. Track and Field Team

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Kibwe Johnson celebrates with fans after competing at the men's hammer throw finals round at the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials Thursday, June 21, 2012, in Beaverton, Ore. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

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Kibwe Johnson competes at the men's hammer throw finals round at the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials Thursday, June 21, 2012, in Beaverton, Ore. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

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Kibwe Johnson competes at the men's hammer throw qualifying round at the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials Thursday, June 21, 2012, in Beaverton, Ore. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

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Kibwe Johnson competes at the men's hammer throw finals round at the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials Thursday, June 21, 2012, in Beaverton, Ore. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

People in Suwanee remember a different Kibwe Johnson.

Tall and muscular, he was still pretty lean as a North Gwinnett High School student. He was a star prep thrower in track and field, but was athletic enough that he ran the sprint events and was speedy on the football field -- once returning a kickoff 99 yards for a score as a dangerous return man.

Since he graduated from North in 1999, Johnson has traveled the country to pursue his track and field dreams and has bulked up into a 6-foot-2, 250-pound powerhouse.

Those in Suwanee who aren't used to seeing the massive version of Johnson will get their chance soon --on NBC.

Johnson won the hammer throw competition late Thursday night at the U.S. Olympic Trials in Oregon and earned his first spot on the U.S. Olympic Team. He will get a chance later this summer in London to give the U.S. its first hammer throw medal winner since 1996 and its first hammer throw gold medalist since 1956.

"It's medal time," Johnson said in his post-competition TV interview, after becoming the first-ever Gwinnett track and field product to make the U.S. Olympic Team. "It's long overdue."

It's been a long wait for Johnson, too.

He has been one of the nation's top throwers for years since dedicating himself full time to the sport. After signing and competing with the University of Georgia's track and field team out of high school, he transferred to Moorpark College (Calif.) to play football. He eventually found his way to Ashland University (Ohio), where his throwing continued to improve.

Lately he has honed his craft in Kamloops, British Columbia, Canada, where he trains with his wife and Canadian thrower Crystal Smith Johnson. The couple, who welcomed an infant daughter this year, work with former Soviet Olympic champion Anatoliy Bondarchuk.

"(Johnson) has such tremendous athleticism," said Jim Yike, one of Johnson's high school coaches at North. "It took him so long to get his athleticism under control in that ring. ... He was such a special case. To see a kid throw that far and run as fast as he could in high school was amazing. In high school, I couldn't get him in the discus ring because he wanted to work on starts in the 100."

Make no mistake now, though. Johnson is focused on his throwing.

He reached a new level in 2011 when he won the hammer throw at the USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships with a toss of 80.31 meters (266 feet, 9 inches), the longest by a U.S. hammer thrower since 2000. He was just the third American ever to top the 80-meter mark.

He also won gold at the 2011 Pan Am Games with an event-record toss of 79.63 meters (261-3).

Yike was concerned going into Olympic Trials because Johnson had recently injured his wrist in a fall. It was so bad that it was initially thought to be broken, and caused him to miss two weeks of training.

But Johnson wasn't slowed down too much at Trials. He actually clinched the competition in his first toss of his preliminary flight, which went 74.40 meters (244-1). He left no doubt after throwing a season-best 74.97 meters (245-11) in the second round of the championship finals.

Those throws outdistanced fellow team members Chris Cralle (243-11) and A.G. Kruger (242-6).

"I wanted a season best," Johnson told a national TV audience following the competition. "And I knew I was probably in good enough shape to do that."

More importantly, the 31-year-old earned a spot in this summer's Olympics.

It was sweet redemption after a disappointing effort at the 2008 Olympic Trials, which saw him mark on only one of six throws. He fouled out on all throws in the finals.

But those memories were forgotten this week.

"It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for someone like me just to be a part of the life of a kid like this," Yike said. "It's such a joy to see what he's doing right now."