Multi Magic – Aliyah Johnson Ready for Golden Trip to the Ukraine
On the 12th July in Donetsk, Ukraine 16 year-old Aliyah Johnson will take to the blocks in one her favourite events, the 100m hurdles. Over the preceding 2 days she will attempt to emulate what Jake Stein achieved in the Octathlon in 2011 – become a World Youth Champion in the girl’s heptathlon.
The expectations are high for Johnson at this year’s World Youth Championships, especially after her impressive performance of 5,532 points in the heptathlon at the National Multi Event Championships in Adelaide. The score placed Johnson 2nd on the Australian all-time youth list, but most importantly placed her right in contention for something special in the Ukraine.
The next step on the road to success is the Australian Junior Championships, which take place in less than a fortnight over in Perth, Western Australia. There Johnson will line up in three individual events – the U/18 100m hurdles, long jump and triple jump, with every possibility that she will walk away with three gold medals.
In the lead up to the Australian Championships we were fortunate to catch up with Johnson, discussing everything from her recent performance in Adelaide to her training with the likes of Henry Frayne and Mitchell Watt.
Q. Firstly, congratulations on such a fantastic performance at the recent National Multi Event Championships in Adelaide, where you took the title with a personal best of 5,532pts. I wouldn’t have said that the conditions were ideal for a heptathlon (temperatures over 30 degrees), so what were your expectations heading into the competition? Did you believe that you could get so close to the Australian U/18 record (Sharon Jaklofsky – 5,650pts, 1985)?
Aliyah: Thanks so much! No the conditions were not ideal having to do multiple events per day, but it’s not the worst I have ever had to compete in. I did not perform as best I would have liked at the QLD Junior Combined Event Championships where I registered my first WYQ. So heading into Adelaide, I was definitely looking to score higher than that and I knew that if I just focused on one event at a time it would be possible. As for the Australian record, it never really crossed my mind. I just went out to give it my best and try and get the automatic spot on the world youth team. Adelaide had its ups and downs in some of my events, so I know that when I get to Ukraine, that the record could definitely be under threat.
Q. It has already been a big year for you in 2013, setting some impressive PB’s in the 100m hurdles, long jump and high jump. Where do you believe the real improvement have come from? Have you physically matured or is this still to come – having just turned 16 last December?
Aliyah: The results this year so far have been great and I am pretty happy with my progress so far. My coaches have mapped out a 4 year plan for me, of which this is just the first year. Because I am young and growing my coaches won’t let me near weights and their focus is on teaching me the correct technique of hurdling, running, jumping and throwing. So I think the reason I am putting some good performances on the board is because I am continually improving on my technique.
Q. You have now qualified for the 2013 World Youth Championships in the heptathlon, with a definite possibility that you could also be chosen to represent Australia in the 100m hurdles. What’s the plan – just to concentrate on the heptathlon in Donetsk, Ukraine or will you push for selection in multiple events? What are your plans for the upcoming Australian Junior Championships, in terms in competing in individual events (triple jump, long jump and hurdles??)
Aliyah: Well, the program at the World Youth Championships does allow for me to compete in both events, with the 100m Hurdles being run over the Day 1 and 2, and the heptathlon on Day 3 and Day 4. But although having the 3 WYQ performances under my belt, I’m planning just to concentrate on the heptathlon in Donetsk. I don’t want to risk tiring myself or getting sore before the heptathlon even starts. As for the Australian Junior Championships, I’ll be competing in the U18 Long Jump, Triple Jump and 100m Hurdles. I decided not to enter a lot of events as I’m also hoping to get a start in the Women’s Triple Jump at the Perth Track Classic on the Saturday Night.
Q. You have a fantastic training group up in Brisbane, with the likes of Mitchell Watt and Henry Frayne training right beside you. How much of their professionalism rubs off on what you do in your training sessions? Jumping 6.02m in the long jump this year I would say that it’s fast becoming your favourite event!
Aliyah: Mitchell and Henry are great role models because they are very professional in their approach to training and all the others things around that such as nutrition, recovery and rest and regeneration. To work with athletes like that means that you also must have the same attitudes and the same discipline. The coach seeks quality efforts all the time in training and everything we do has a point of focus aimed at us improving what we do. It is a competitive training environment with a lot of good athletes at the Jumps Centre but training is always a lot of fun as well. I wouldn’t say I really have a favourite event. I love them all equally.
Q. Take us through what excited you about track and field when you were first starting out? When did you start to believe that you had more natural talent than most?
Aliyah: I think the thing that excited me most was being able to compete each Saturday at little athletics and try all the new events. I was that excited I used to be up, dressed and ready to go by 9am and little athletics wouldn’t start until 1pm. I didn’t really excel in athletics until I turned 13 where I made my first QLD team and travelled to Hobart for the All Schools Nationals. Up until then, my best achievement was coming 12th in the multi-event and 9th in the long jump at the primary school state championships. So I wasn’t really the one to believe I had natural talent, it was those around me who saw the potential.
Q. The heptathlon is such a demanding event. How do you structure your training to ensure that you’re not putting yourself in danger of injury etc.? Do you have to hold back at times considering you’re still so young?
Aliyah: I train just 5 days per week or 4 days when I am competing. Training days are split into two one hour sessions to cover my events as well as my gym program. I do two sessions in the QAS Gym where my program is a developmental one. I have a lot of special strength and stability (injury prevention) exercises for my feet, knees, hips and inner and outer core to develop a stable platform for running, hurdling and jumping and similar exercises for my shoulders and back for throwing. My coaches will not allow me to do weights until after I turn 17 at the end of this year as they say that strength without stability is just a waste of time and also leads to injuries.
Q. What do you believe is your most favoured event? Do you believe that the heptathlon will always come first, or is there a chance we will see you continue to push for individual selection in events such as the hurdles and/or triple or long jump?
Aliyah: I don’t really think I have that one event that stands out as a favourite at the moment; I enjoy training and competing in everything. I don’t know about ‘always’ but for now heptathlon will come first. After the 2014 World Junior Championships depending on how things go, my coaches and I will sit down, evaluate and plan what direction I’ll head in. I don’t see the need to specialize in an event now, I’m still so young. Either way, I will still push for selections in long/triple jump and hurdles.
Q. Returning to your impressive result in the heptathlon in Adelaide, you now rank in the world’s top-30 all-time (at youth level) and you have just turned 16. Where can you see the greatest improvements coming from in the lead up to the World Youth Championships? What was the one event that frustrated you in Adelaide?
Aliyah: Wow really! Leading into the World Youth Championships I can see the biggest improvements coming from my javelin, high jump and for sure my 800m. Leading into Adelaide, I knew these would be my weakest events. These also happen to be the events I train for the least, actually having no training for my 800m. So with finding time and focusing on certain key points in training, improvement will be possible. There wasn’t just one event that frustrated me. But if I had to pick one, it would be my Long Jump. I had been jumping well in training, and already jumping 6.02m in January, I was coming in with high expectations. But then again, it is a heptathlon, and it’s not common you’ll whip out PB’s all the time.
Q. When you look back through history, is there a heptathlete that you look up to both at an international level and on a domestic front? Do you have the numbers 6695 (being the Australian record) posted anywhere on your bedroom walls??
Aliyah: On an international level I look up to Jessica Ennis the 2012 Olympic Champion and Jackie Joyner-Kersee who is the World Record holder for the heptathlon. On a domestic front I really look up to Kylie Wheeler, and I was absolutely over the moon when I had the opportunity to meet her at the 2013 Australian Youth Olympic Festival. One whole wall in my room is just dedicated to athletics. I call it my ‘Inspiration Wall’. It includes pictures of international athletes such as Jessica Ennis, Mitchell Watt, Henry Frayne, Sally Pearson and even junior athletes Jake Stein and Steven Solomon. I don’t actually have those numbers on my wall, but I do have the world records for Long Jump and Triple Jump up there, along with 2 signs that read ‘World Youth Championships 2013 – Ukraine’, ‘World Junior Championships 2014 – USA’.
Q. You have such an interesting personal history, being born in Florida, USA. When did you move to Queensland and do you have a rich history of sporting ability in your family? Do you have any other siblings – and if yes do they also play sport at the highest level?
Aliyah: When I was 3 years old I moved to Queensland. My dad was a high jumper and a 400m sprinter, and my second cousin Selina Johnson was an Olympic medallist in the USA 4X400m team. In America, I have 2 half-sisters and a half-brother that did track and field to a college level. One of my half-sisters went on to be a cheerleader for the Atlanta Hawks basketball team.
Q. Finally, what are your immediate goals and what are your long term goals? Have they changed much since 2012?
Aliyah: In Perth I’m going for the national titles in the hurdles, long jump and triple jump. I’m quite excited for the hurdles to be honest. I have been recording 13.6’s, without anyone there to push me, so in Perth I know I’ll receive great competition from another athlete who also has 2 WYQ to her name. Hopefully she’ll drive me into the 13.50’s. In July I am aiming to follow in Jake Steins footsteps, seeking the title of 2013 World Youth Champion. The point score I registered in Adelaide would have given me a podium finish in the girl’s heptathlon at the world youth championships in the past few years, so I know with the time I have between now and Ukraine and the with the improvements I know I can make, that a podium finish could be in sight. Looking beyond this year, I’m aiming to qualify for the 2014 World Junior Team and from there onwards any World Championship, World Indoor Championship, Commonwealth Games and Olympic games I can gain selection in.
Also, could you please let us know what a normal week would be like for you on the training track?
Aliyah: Monday– Shot Put, Horizontal Jumps
Tuesday – Hurdles and Sprints
Wednesday- High Jump, Core Session
Thursday- Javelin, Sprints
Friday – REST
Saturday – Core Session, Hurdles and Sprints
Sunday – REST
Thanks so much!
Chris Wainwright – runnerstribe.com