Sinclaire Johnson confident heading into USA Track & Field Outdoor Championships
As Sinclaire Johnson made her way to the starting line for the women’s 1,500 meters at the Prefontaine Classic last month in Eugene, she took a moment to take in her competitors.
Eight of them ran in the 1,500 final at the Summer Olympics in Tokyo last year. Now, she had the opportunity to show she belongs among them.
No thoughts about Johnson’s final time crossed her mind throughout the race. They never do. She’s too focused on her pace and beating those around her, and she rode that mindset to a fourth-place finish, beating six of those Tokyo Olympians.
“I felt like I had finally stepped into that pool of competing on that world-class level,” Johnson said this week.
Running a sub four-minute race was always Johnson’s goal heading into the meet. When she had the time to think about her official time, she saw it read 3 minutes, 58.85 seconds, a new personal record. It’s a far cry from where she was nine months ago, when she could train only in pools or the gym while dreaming of getting back to running.
Johnson joined Bowerman Track Club following her college career at Oklahoma State University, where she won a national title in the 1,500 as a junior in 2019. She made the switch to coach Pete Julian’s Portland-based Union Athletics Club last August.
That’s when the pain started.
It began as persistent pain in her hip following a workout early in the week. She couldn’t walk by Saturday, and an ensuing MRI showed a small tear in her labrum. Such tears typically can be corrected only through surgery, but this tear was small enough to not require an operation.
Johnson resumed training with caution, but she was still in pain that wasn’t getting better. Another MRI a month later showed something new: a stress fracture. So Johnson’s time with Union Athletics Club began in earnest while she was in recovery.
Running wasn’t an option, so Johnson instead spent time in the gym strengthening the muscles surrounding her hip and pool exercises to reduce the stress on her body. The process of getting Johnson back into competitive shape was slow and cautious, Julian said, but she was finally able to start running again in November.
“Every week just kept getting better and better,” Johnson said. “I just kept shocking myself with what I could do.”
Julian and Dave McHenry, Union Athletics Club’s strength coach, were with her every step of the way, Johnson said. This included daily check-ins on Johnson’s physical and mental health, scheduling appointments with doctors and breaking down how to get her back to training.
“She’s been able to just continue to progress honestly, just with more training load,” Julian said.
When it wasn’t her coaches reaching out with support, it was her new teammates. Jessica Hull, a former track athlete at the University of Oregon, met Johnson as a competitor when the two were running in college.
Hull was right behind Johnson when the latter won the NCAA title in 2019. It was a flip of the preliminary round earlier that day, when Hull took first and Johnson claimed second.
“We both knew at that point, we couldn’t have done it without each other, pushing each other,” Hull said.
Not only has Hull been training alongside Johnson at Union Athletics Club, she was also one of the eight Olympians running with her at the Prefontaine Classic. The two aren’t competitive with each other now that they’re on a team, Hull said.
Heading into the USA Track & Field Outdoor Championships this week, Hull said she’s looking forward to seeing Johnson’s training pay off.
“Watching her race at USA is gonna feel like my heart is out there with her,” said Hull, who competes for Australia.
Messages from coaches and teammates were important, but Johnson’s ultimate confidence boost came from herself. Slowly, but surely, she worked through the outdoor season to go from hanging on in races to competing to win.
That top-four finish in the Prefontaine Classic against some of the same competition she’ll see in the 1,500 this week proved to Johnson that she can earn a spot on Team USA for the World Athletics Championships next month.
“Not only do I want to make a team,” Johnson said, “I believe that I can make a team.”
posted Wednesday June 22nd
by Luke Norton (Oregon Live)