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"Off The Record"
A Blog by Jill M. Geer

Chelsea Johson making a name for herself

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

BERLIN Here at Olympic Stadium, various strains of popular, techno and heavy-metal music play over the loudspeakers for a few seconds at a time, to fill voids just before and after competition or to set a mood.

For the women's pole vault competition Monday night, I kept expecting to hear the Ting Ting's song "That's Not My Name" when Chelsea Johnson hit the runway.

At every international championship event, Team USA athletes take part in informational meetings and team-building activities prior to the start of competition. At the Team USA meeting on August 13, athletes engaged in an exercise that involved them chatting with teammates they didn't otherwise know, learning something about them, and then introducing that person to the rest of the team. It's an ice-breaker that often results in hilarity. The introduction of a discus thrower by a 400-meter runner may prove to be the most memorable off-track moment of these championships, but that's for another blog.

The athlete introducing Chelsea Johnson, who in this blog shall mercifully remain nameless, enthusiastically introduced her to the team as Lacy Janson. Um, right event, but the wrong person.

Although followers of American vaulting are very familiar with Chelsea, casual track fans who don't follow the vault might not have known her name prior to Monday night. Her father's name, Jan Johnson, has been in the vaulting world for decades. The 1972 Olympic bronze medalist in the men's pole vault, Jan Johnson owns and operates SkyJumpers Vertical Sports Club, runs camps around the country and is the nation's top expert in pole vault safety.

Chelsea first made a name for herself as a vaulter at UCLA, where she won the 2004 NCAA outdoor title, the 2006 indoor crown and broke the collegiate record (4.60m/15-1). Despite her collegiate success, Berlin marked the first time she had competed for Team USA at a World Championships or Olympic Games. First-timers in events as unforgiving as the vault often have to chalk up their first Worlds competition to experience, rather than aiming for the medal stand.

But the vault isn't unforgiving only to international-team neophytes. On Monday night, the female equivalent of Usain Bolt (read: "unbeatable"), Russian Yelena Isinbayeva, no-heighted. It's hard to say who was more stunned the fans, the press, or Isinbayeva herself. She hasn't been full strength this year and already was beaten once, but to fail to make even a single height is something the world hasn't seen, and didn't expect to see, from the bionic woman of the vault. Indeed, the always engaging and effusive Isinbayeva left the track in tears.

While the world record holder was in the spotlight going three-and-out, Johnson was winning the first medal in a World Championship women's pole vault that doesn't have Stacy Dragila's name on it. It is somehow fitting that in Dragila's last meet as a Team USA athlete she is retiring at the end of this year Johnson provided a medal few expected.

The pole vault is an unpredictable event, which is one of the things that makes it so exciting. Have an untimely injury or bad timing on a particular night, and you can go from champ to chump. For Johnson, it was her time to be a champ.

At future team meetings, Chelsea Johnson's introductions will not only include her correct name, but also the words "World Championships silver medalist."

Pretty memorable stuff.

COMMENTS
I have known Chelsea since she was about 9 years old, and we are all SO proud and happy for her!!! Onward and upward Chelsea!
Posted by: Dan-o on 8/18/2009 10:14:05 AM PT
Thanks Jill. It was really fun. The finals were crazy!!! Chelsea stuggled at opening height in prelims and then hit her rythem and it just got better and better. At the end we really thought she was gonna jump 4.75 or 80 and steal the whole thing. Stacey played a huge part helping Chelsea in the month leading up to the final. We were calling her the "big sister".
Posted by: jan johnson on 8/20/2009 7:45:20 AM PT
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Photo of Jill GeerJill M. Geer is Chief Public Affairs Officer of USATF. She recently completed her first marathon at the Bank of America Chicago Marathon, where she qualified for Boston. Follow her professional exploits as the USATF spokesperson and her adventures as a mid-pack marathoner -- Off The Record.

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