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Road to Olympics a Painful One for Decathlete

August 04, 1988|MITCH POLIN | Times Staff Writer

As he analyzes his performance in the decathlon at the U.S. Olympic track trials in Indianapolis two weeks ago, Dave Johnson admits that it would have been nice to have finished first instead of third.

His score of 8,245 points in the grueling, 10-event competition--more than enough to make the Olympic team--was only 48 points behind winner Gary Kinder.

But the 25-year-old Johnson, a former Azusa Pacific University star who lives in Covina, had come a long way, perhaps further than he could have envisioned earlier in the year.

That was during Johnson's long recuperation from an operation to remove bone spurs from his ankle, the latest in a series of injuries that have blocked his progress.

Johnson's injuries started in 1985 when he suffered a tear in an elbow while throwing the javelin that forced him to miss a year of competition.

He was impressive upon his return in 1986, finishing first in the decathlon in two meets, including a winning score of 8,203 points in The Athletics Congress nationals in Eugene, Ore.

Impressive enough to move Johnson up to No. 2 in the national rankings in the decathlon in 1986. He scored 8,045 points in finishing first against a top field in the Cal Invitational Decathlon in 1987 at Azusa Pacific.

Unfortunately for Johnson, that was his last major competition for a while.

The 6-3 and 200-pounder says he suffered from bone spurs during much of the 1987 season.

"It was just the ankle," he said. "Anytime I tried to go on, it was quite painful. I'd have a tough first day, and when it got into the second day, it was painful."

So Johnson finally underwent an operation to remove the bone spurs last November.

"It took a long time for the scar tissue to break down in my ankle," he remembers. "It was pretty sore."

It wasn't until recently that Johnson was returning to form.

"It held me back for a long time, and then about a month before the trials, it's like the Lord said, 'You're ready to compete,' and I was," he said.

Added Azusa Pacific Coach Terry Franson, who still coaches Johnson: "He took a definite jump four or five weeks before the trials. You could just see the confidence growing in him. I knew that if he didn't make any mistakes and he didn't feel any pain, he could do big things."

Johnson said it was not exactly a pain-free experience at the trials. He said he did not feel in top form, especially in the final event (1,500 meters).

"The main thing I had to do is get on the team," he said. "It would have been nice to finish first, but I really didn't feel that good. The other guys had a full season of healthy competition."

Franson said Johnson's injuries appear to be behind him and thinks he is progressing well for the Olympics in September in Seoul.

"I think he showed everyone at the trials that he is a sleeping giant," Franson said. "To P.R. (have a personal best) at the trials with all he's been through shows me that there's another potential 200 or 300 points out there.

"He's scratching at the surface of his ability. I always believed that he could break Bruce Jenner's (American) record (8,618 points in 1976), and it wouldn't surprise me if he scored 8,400 to 8,600 in the Olympics. He's an incredible talent. I think we'll see one of the best scores by an American in quite a while."

Johnson is inclined to agree.

"I'm in a position where I don't think my P.R. really shows what I can do," he said. "I've got that going for me where the other decathletes have already gotten high scores, and they may have peaked out.

In order to challenge the likes of two-time Olympic champion Daley Thompson of Great Britain and Jurgen Hingsen of West Germany at Seoul, Johnson realizes that he will have to find a way to score at least a few hundred more points.

That is one reason why Franson sought the help of former Olympic high jumper Doug Nordquist, who tutored Johnson in the event Monday in Azusa."

Johnson has also been concentrating on speed. He has a best of 10.77 seconds in the 100-meter dash and thinks that he can improve for the Olympics.

"I've been having problems with my 100 meters," he said. "I don't know what it is, but my speed hasn't been up to par."

"I'm ready to P.R. in the Olympics," he said. "It's strange the way it's worked out. It's like someone's looking out for me. Earlier in the year, I thought it was bad limping around every day in an Olympic year, but it seems like everything's coming around for me."

He credits his physical therapist, John Wallace, with helping his limp disappear. Wallace even went so far as to accompany Johnson to the Olympic trials.

"He worked with Dave every day at the trials," Franson said. "He paid his way to go out there and he taped him every day. He has worked with him the last six months, and to have him there at the trials made a big difference."

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