With less than two months of training with a travel team track coach, Robert Johnson Jr. has made his mark in USA Track and Field Competitions – coming from nowhere to take the Junior Olympic bronze medal in the 100 meter finals last week in Baltimore.
Johnson took third with a time of 11.41. He qualified fifth in the semi-finals with a time of 11.73.
Johnson could have had a second individual medal. He qualified for the finals in the 200m race, timing in at the fourth slot, but missed the sign in after a trip to McDonalds with a teammate, according to track coach Barry Havior of the Baldwin Jets. Johnson was in fourth place in the semi-finals for the race.
Johnson said he enjoyed the experience and traveling to several places out of state to compete in track events before reaching the junior Olympic level.
Havior said Johnson qualified in four different events including the 4x100 and the 4x400 relays. Those teams did not make it out of sectionals, the coach said.
Johnson was one of 28 members of the Baldwin Jets to go to the Baltimore meet.
Havior said Johnson’s natural talent will take him far with track if he applies himself.
Havior said he got a tip from the parent of another runner about “this kid” at Putnam Middle School “that could smoke all the boys out there” running for Havior.
Havior said he heard the comments and paid little attention the first time, but after a second reference from teacher Kevin McCrary, Havior’s curiousity was piqued.
He said he told McCrary to ask the kid if he was interested and have his parents call him.
“Well, the next thing I know the kid is calling me,” Havior said with a chuckle. “I told him I had to talk to his parents and they called back. But, I could hear him in the background saying, ‘I want to run.’ ”
Havior said he was working with several of his team members when he invited Johnson, who goes by R.J., down to the track for a look. Havior said he had several good runners on the track to run with Johnson. He “smoked them all.”
“Oh, wow. This boy can run,” Havior said to himself. “I asked him how old he was. And it was on from there.”
One of the runners in the race was sort of a plant. KeAndre Bolston, who had just won state championships in the 100 and 200 in recreational competition, as well as being part of a winning 4x100m relay team, ran that first race against Johnson. He lost.
“When he beat KeAndre, I knew he was something,” Havior said. “He is already on the pace of a high school boy now. If he keeps working and dedicates himself to training, there won’t be anyone who can touch him this year at the middle school level.”
Havior added, if he continues to work at it, Johnson will be a rising star in the track and field world in multiple races, but he has to train.
“He has two things going for him. He is a great athlete and he has a great personality,” Havior said. “He’s a coachable kid. And from my understanding he is a pretty good student as well.”