Jinson finds silver lining in 1500 gold after narrow 800 miss


Jinson Johnson says all the right things about team spirit and goodwill towards compatriots. He will tell you he was happy with the silver medal he won in the 800m on Tuesday and that he is happy that another Indian won the title. That he rolls up the ribbon and tucks it into its case as carefully as he does with the gold medal he won in the men's 1500m race on Thursday. "I think other people were more upset than me. I thought I had done very well. I had won a silver hadn't I," Johnson will say.

But Johnson knows another thing too. Silver is great and all, but it isn't gold. And everyone who even had a passing familiarity with Johnson expected him to win the brightest medal in the two competitions he was going to run at the Asian Games. The 27-year-old had come into the Asian Games as the undisputed king of Indian middle-distance running and the leading runner across both distances amongst Asian competitors this year (he was fastest in the 800m and second-quickest in the 1500m run).

He had won a bronze and a silver in the 800m at the Asian level and this was the perfect time to trade up. He was running in the form of his life. Over the past six months, he'd broken the two longest-standing records in Indian athletics - Bahadur Singh's 23-year-record in the 1500m and Sriram Singh's 42-year-old mark in the 800m.

So to be upset as he was in the final 40 yards of the 800m came as a shock. Especially by compatriot Manjit Singh. "If you ask anyone, they will tell you that they were surprised that Manjit won. I'm happy that an Indian got gold, and Manjit is my friend when we are training but I've never lost to Manjit in the last five years," he says.

There's definitely a bit of ego bruised by this loss. "You can be the best of friends off the field, but on the track you are competitors and you want to win. You don't want to lose there."

Once again, Johnson was the favourite for the race with a season's best time of 3:37:86 seconds. And so while he was determined to win, Johnson also called for some divine backup just in case. "Anything can go wrong in a race. In Incheon (Asian Games 2014) , the first four runners in the 800m final were disqualified. I didn't wan't that to happen with me. I just wanted to win a gold. I just prayed before this race. I said God, just let me run a safe race. Just make sure I don't disqualify myself."

The race Johnson ran wasn't as speedy he is renowned for but a tactical contest. When asked later if he was disappointed that he didn't break his national record, he would reply incredulously. "I didn't care what my timing was. If I had run a 4-minute race, I would have no problem. I just wanted to win."

Ironically, his loss to Manjit earlier this week might have helped him out a bit on Thursday. "Johnson had lost the 800m because everyone knew he was the main threat. So he was boxed right until the last 200m, by which time he didn't have the time to use his finishing kick," says coach Amrish Kumar.

"But after the last race, people began trying to mark Manjit too. That gave Johnon the space to run his race too. So despite his slow start, Johnson wasn't really placed under any sustained pressure. He had all the time he needed to crank up his finishing run. There was no slacking off at the home stretch even though second-placed Amir Moradi was some 15 yards behind. "I wasn't going to make any mistakes in this race. I was going to push hard right until the end," Johnson said later.

This time there would be no surprise burst from a competitor on the outside. Johnson crossed the tape first and got the medal of the colour he wanted. "Gold is a gold!" he signs off.