Olympian and North Gwinnett grad Kibwe Johnson will be inducted into the Gwinnett County Sports Hall of Fame during a ceremony tonight at the Gwinnett Center. (File Photo)
After a certain age passes for any athlete, the retirement question inevitably comes.
It already has for Kibwe Johnson, who turns 33 in July. The top American hammer thrower answers it politely, knowing full well that he doesn’t plan to give up competitive track and field in the near future despite struggling with injuries last season.
“I plan to keep going through ’16 for sure,” the North Gwinnett grad said of 2016, the next Olympic year. “The last two times I’ve been asked that question I’ve said after ’16. But ’17 is a World Championships year again and if I’m in any kind of shape, I’d have to do that again. So through ’16 for sure and after that, it is probably year by year. I want to get my foot in the door with what I really want to do, which is coaching. At some point in the next couple of years, I might get into coaching.”
Johnson, who will be inducted tonight into the Gwinnett County Sports Hall of Fame, still has goals in front of him as a competitor, though.
He’s had great successes internationally in the hammer throw, winning gold with a Pan Am Games record in 2011 and winning the USA Outdoor national title in 2011, establishing himself as the event’s best hope in his marquee event. He broke through to reach his first Olympics in 2012, making the finals and finishing ninth.
Americans have struggled in the hammer throw internationally, so Johnson offers hope in the sport. His throw of 266 feet, 9 inches (80.31 meters) in 2011 was the world’s top throw of the year and the best by an American since 2000. He’s one of only three U.S. throwers to ever cross the 80-meter mark.
Johnson aims to push Americans back to the forefront in the hammer throw as an athlete, but that quest also drives his interest in coaching. His long-term goal is to run his own track and field training facility, and his previous home in Gwinnett would be an attractive location, he said.
“The way our coach has it set up here is great,” Johnson said of his current training facility in Canada. “I want to be able to train kids from 2 years old to 30-something. Basically I want to give back to the sport that gave me so much and do my best to change how the U.S. is viewed as a hammer nation, as a throwing nation. People think we’re weak, and we are. But it’s not for lack of talent. We have talent all over the place.”
Johnson’s talent will be celebrated at the Gwinnett Sports Hall of Fame banquet, where his former high school coach Jim Yike will induct him. His close family will be a part of the special night, too, including his wife Crystal Smith-Johnson, an accomplished Canadian thrower herself.
The couple has a 2-year-old daughter, Brooklyn, who already imitates her dad’s spinning motion on throws.
“It’s good. I love it. I love being a dad,” Johnson said. “She likes to do everything. She’s been all over the world already. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
The family gets to tour Johnson’s hometown this weekend, part of the festivities planned during the fun trip.
“I think going in (to the hall of fame) is awesome,” Johnson said. “I’m glad to be a part of it. … I haven’t been back to Georgia in a long time. It will be great to come back and see some friends. Just going around and seeing what’s different or changed since I’ve been gone will be fun. I know seeing pictures my friends post on social media, it seems like Suwanee’s grown a lot. The last time I’ve been back there has been awhile. It’s been over five years. I’m looking forward to it.”