Brandeé goes global

Published 10:50 pm Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Nansemond River High School sophomore Brandeé Johnson warms up in Florida this past weekend where she qualified for the Youth Olympic Games in China. (Toy Redding photo)

Nansemond River High School sophomore Brandeé Johnson warms up in Florida this past weekend where she qualified for the Youth Olympic Games in China. (Toy Redding photo)

Nansemond River High School sophomore Brandeé Johnson is wasting no time in her track and field career, qualifying during the weekend to represent the U.S. at the Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing, China, this August.

She ran a personal best 23.76 seconds in the 200-meter dash finals, good for first at the USA Track and Field event in Miramar, Fla., known as the U.S. Area Youth Olympic Selection Trials.

“It means a lot to me,” Johnson said. “I was really proud of myself, and me knowing that I can accomplish things early in life lets me know that I have a bright future.”

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Nansemond River track coach Justin Byron made the trip to Florida, as well, and was excited by what Johnson accomplished.

“It’s extremely special,” he said.

He pointed out something that made the trials distinct and her achievement even more impressive: The field of competitors came from all around the Americas.

“It wasn’t just United States athletes that she competed against,” he said.

In the 200, she competed against runners from Canada and Puerto Rico, and in the 400-meter hurdles, she faced hurdlers from those two countries, as well as Costa Rica and Mexico.

For her to go up against them and come back with a win, “that says a lot about her as an athlete,” Byron said.

Johnson has already achieved great things on the conference level, the district level, the regional level, the state level and even at the national level.

“She stepped up on an international stage,” Byron said.

And she did it in the 200 under difficult circumstances, having fallen just an hour earlier in the 400 hurdles finals.

“She actually was in second place with one hurdle left,” Byron said, noting she was close on the heels of the Canadian high school national champion Alexandra Aitken, who went on to win.

Johnson hit the last hurdle and fell, ending up finishing in sixth with a time of 1:06.32. The qualifying mark she had to beat was 1:04, which she had done the first time she competed in the event prior to the trials.

Additionally, Byron said, Johnson’s whole training plan had been adjusted so she could compete in the hurdles, and she was actually seeded higher in that event than in the 200.

He said he could not even put into words how hard it is to pick oneself back up from that in an hour to do what Johnson did.

Johnson explained how she did it.

“I was just thinking about back at states, when I had a bunch of events to do, and I had to take each race by itself,” she said.

Acknowledging she was disappointed by the fall, she said, “Then I realized that I still had the 200 to do, so I had to forget the 400 at that time.”

Johnson had to run the 200 in 25 seconds flat in order to qualify.

Like many track athletes, Johnson must watch what she eats to keep fit, so even though she had just turned 16, she could not indulge in loads of cake and ice cream. But with the quality of her trials performance, Byron made a small exception.

“After the meet, she was allowed to get one milkshake,” he said. “She got a little reward afterward, because she did so well.”

The Americas Youth Olympic Team is composed of qualifying USA Track and Field athletes born in 1997 or 1998. They will compete in the Second Summer Youth Olympic Games, which take place Aug. 16-28 in Nanjing, China.