(Staff Photo By Herb Nygren Jr.)
JENNIFER JOHNSON is set to compete in four events at the USA National Junior Olympics.
By HAROLD WILSON
Staff Writer

Before leaving for the Golden State, Jennifer Johnson already possessed a golden state of mind.

For five straight summers, Johnson adhered to the same routine, making the USA National Junior Olympics Track and Field Championships each year since turning nine.

On the verge of starting high school, the 14-year old altered her approach a tad bit, making her sole aim during the 2007 summer to claim a first national gold medal.

Johnson, a member of the East Texas Track Club (formerly East Texas Comets), gets several chances to do so, starting with the youth (13-14) pentathlon, set to start at 9 a.m. Tuesday at Hilmer Lodge Stadium on the campus of Mount San Antonio College in Walnut, Calif.

She competes in the open high jump at 8 a.m. Friday, the open long jump at 8 p.m. Saturday and the open triple jump at 8 a.m. Sunday.

That's my goal, Johnson said of leaving California with the top prize. I've been going every since I was nine and I haven't won the gold yet.

At the 2006 Junior Olympics, Johnson departed with a bronze medal in the triple jump and a seventh-place finish in the long jump.

Winning, she believes, comes down to being in the right place at the right time.

The versatility of Johnson suggests her getting close, with the phenom already owning trips to nationals in the 200 and 400-meter dashes, as well as the long jump, triple jump and pentathlon - which comprises the 100 hurdles, shot put, high jump, long jump and 800.

The combination of talent and experience makes Johnson dangerous in her field.

I know the environment, said Johnson, who ranked the high jump and pentathlon as her favorite events. I'm more relaxed.

Prior to the Junior Olympics, Johnson went undefeated, winning every event she competed in during the summer circuit - including the Association and USATF Southwestern Region 12 meet in Odessa.

At regionals, Johnson won the long jump with a distance of 17 feet, 10 1/4 inches, the triple jump with a 35-1, and the high jump with a 4-11 3/4 - showing marked improvement in each compared to the same time last year.

In her opinion, the big difference in regionals and nationals boils down to the actual competition.

Competing in so many events causes for more preparation, but at the same time helps - with her competing in the high jump and long jump in both pentathlon and open events.

Being among the older girls in the field, as opposed to one of the youngest like a year ago, gives Johnson more confidence.

A year ago, Johnson jumped a distance of 34-9 3/4 in the triple jump, more than three feet off the winning mark (38-4). In the long jump, she soared to a height of 17-0 1/2, nearly 18 inches off the first-place finisher (18-5).

Now, she plans on returning the favor to the younger girls.

Last year all the 14-year olds beat me, said Johnson, who will start high school on Aug. 22 at T.K. Gorman. I expect to win. I have to put something out there to reach for.

Harold Wilson covers sports. He can be reached at 903.596.6293. e-mail: sports@tylerpaper.com