Sheena Johnson at the US championships (© Kirby Lee)
Los Angeles, USA U.S. 400m hurdler Sheena Johnson arrived on the international circuit with a buzz in 2004 after finishing fourth in the Athens Olympics and becoming the youngest athlete to break 53 seconds at age 21.
But Johnson disappeared almost as quickly after injuries in 2005 and 2006 and a coaching change. Now 24, Johnson, hopes to make a notable return at the 11th IAAF World Championships in Athletics, Osaka, Japan (25 Aug to 2 Sep).
Johnson is enjoying her best season since her senior year at UCLA in 2004 when she clocked 52.95 at the U.S. Olympic Trials to set a meet and collegiate record and record the fastest time by an American on U.S. soil.
In June, Johnson finished second in the USA Track & Field Championships in Indianapolis to Tiffany Williams in a race that produced the top two times in the world this season at 53.28 and 53.29. Last month, Johnson tuned up for Osaka with a win in the Pan-American Games in Rio de Janeiro.
“The past two years weren’t too great, but my expectations are starting to get better,” Johnson said. “I am not looking for a certain time but to get to the World final and do decent.”
Injuries and Coaching Change
Johnson missed nearly three months of training in preparation for the 2005 season after tearing her meniscus in her right trail leg suffered in a fall in practice. The condition still bothers Johnson and may ultimately require surgery. Last year, Johnson suffered a 6 cm tear in the quadriceps of her right left lead leg while going over a hurdle in an early season workout.
Johnson also switched coaches, moving from Bobby Kersee, who coached her throughout college, to Avondale Mainwaring, the coach of 2004 Olympic 400m Hurdles champion Felix Sanchez.
Johnson was lying on her back in exhaustion after 200m intervals at West L.A. College when she ran into Sanchez who was jogging on the track. Sanchez suggested that she should train with Manwaring.
Ultimately, Johnson said she made the change because it was difficult running unsupervised workouts as a professional athlete compared to the structured training as a collegian with Kersee’s hectic travel schedule and other commitments.
“It was really hard,” Johnson said. “I love Bobby to death but as far as my professional career and what I needed to do for me, I wasn’t going to be successful if I stayed with it.”
Strict Training Regimen
After finishing the 2005 season with a best of 54.72, Johnson ran 53.90 in 2006 in her first season under Manwaring in a training group also includes Jamaica 400m hurdler Shevon Stoddart, who will compete in Osaka, and occasionally Candice Davis, the 2007 NCAA 100m Hurdles runner-up from USC.
Johnson anticipated that it would take a season to adjust to Manwaring’s training programe – not to mention the 7 a.m. workouts – for Johnson, a self-proclaimed night owl.
“I kind of expected to difficult, it takes few years and get used to (a new coach) the first two years,” Johnson said. “I am starting to come around and was never really worried.”
Kirby Lee for the IAAF