Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper The Spokesman-Review

Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
Sports >  Area sports

Record-setter Sinclaire Johnson returns to Lilac Grand Prix, ready to let her speed speak for itself

Jan. 26, 2023 Updated Thu., Jan. 26, 2023 at 8:45 p.m.

Members of the Nike Union AthleticsClub, from left, Ella Donaghu, Shannon Osika, Sinclaire Johnson and Raevyn Rogers celebrate at The Podium their world record time of 10:39.91 DMR, Friday evening, Feb. 11, 2022 in Spokane.  (DAN PELLE/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
Members of the Nike Union AthleticsClub, from left, Ella Donaghu, Shannon Osika, Sinclaire Johnson and Raevyn Rogers celebrate at The Podium their world record time of 10:39.91 DMR, Friday evening, Feb. 11, 2022 in Spokane. (DAN PELLE/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW) Buy this photo
By John Blanchette For The Spokesman-Review

Sinclaire Johnson competed just once indoors last track season and was part of a world record run in Spokane – hitting a grand slam, if you will, in her only time at bat.

Remarkably, it was not the high point of her year.

The sport may take a runner around and around the same path, but that doesn’t mean it’s predictable.

Johnson has discovered as much in her still-young pro career, and she starts her fourth season Friday night at the Podium when the Lilac Grand Prix returns for its second running at 6:15 p.m.

There won’t be any world records this time. For a number of reasons – inability to lure suitable competition among them – the host Nike Union Athletic Club of Portland scrapped the women’s distance medley relay this time around after setting the world best on the Podium’s 200-meter oval last February, placing team members into individual events instead.

That puts Johnson in 1,500 meters, her favorite race – and not just because she’s the reigning national champion.

“It’s that perfect distance – a balls-to-the-wall type race, but having great tactics, too, and I love that aspect,” said the 24-year-old Oklahoma State alum. “I get so much excitement from racing the 1,500.”

But she’s been able to find it in other races, too – including that splendid relay run in Spokane last February.

Johnson ran the 800-meter leg on the Union distance medley, coming through in 2 minutes, 2.89 seconds and giving the baton to anchor Shannon Osika .65 of a second ahead of record pace. Osika’s solo mile brought the Nike team home in 10:39.91, just .40 under the mark set by a U.S. national team in 2017. There was a fifth contributor to the record – an animated Podium crowd of about 2,000.

“Having the crowd up and on their feet and screaming – especially when the anchor was coming around the final turn – was really cool to see,” Johnson said. “It was amazing to see how invested everyone was.”

If this year’s Lilac Grand Prix doesn’t have a cleanup hitter like the relay, the rest of 75-minute program should provide some great racing. Twelve former Olympians or World Championships competitors are entered in the six pro races for more than $16,000 in prize money, with world ranking points at stake in both the men’s and women’s 800 and 1,500. Among the standouts: 2016 Olympic bronze medalist Clayton Murphy, last year’s silver medalist at the world indoors Noah Kibet and four NCAA champs led by Michaela Meyer in the women’s 800.

When Johnson arrived in Spokane last February, she was still in something of a racer’s limbo.

She had joined the Bowerman Track Club in Oregon out of college, only to see the 2020 racing season all but wiped out by COVID-19. But it was already becoming clear to Johnson that the club’s emphasis on strength and high volume training wasn’t suited to her, and a disappointing 2021 season – she was 12th of 13 runners in the Olympic Trials final – confirmed it. On top of that, she suffered a stress fracture in her hip that sidelined her virtually the entire fall of 2021 – just as she was joining the Union club to begin training with coach Pete Julien.

“It was hard – not being able to train or feel like you were contributing,” she said.

But her “slow launch” proved to be a blessing. In May, she ran her first-sub 4-minute 1,500 at the Prefontaine Classic, 3:58.85, and a month later unleashed a fierce final lap to win the U.S. title and a berth to the World Championships in Eugene. A sixth-place finish in the first worlds on American soil “brought me full circle.

“As a competitive athlete, I see myself on top and that’s where you want to be,” Johnson said. “To have a year like 2021 that’s not close to that was pretty defeating, and ending the year with an injury was another kick to put me down. To come back from that was a challenging thing – but maybe I wouldn’t have had the extra drive and fire if I hadn’t gone through all that the year before.”

And it’s all been part of the education of Sinclaire Johnson.

“I’m going on my fourth year as a professional and the main thing I’ve learned is to advocate for yourself,” she said. “You step on the track, you’re the sole person in control of how your race goes. Your training, your coaching, all of it – you have to make the best decision for yourself and speak up. Nobody knows your body better than you do, and you have to advocate for what’s best for yourself.

“This sport is selfish, and you really do have to put yourself first.”

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

Local journalism is essential.

Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.

Active Person

Subscribe to the sports newsletter

Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.