By: Daniel Stickradt
BOYS TRACK: Rockford All-American Cole Johnson back on track with stellar junior showing
BY DAN STICKRADT
EAST KENTWOOD — Cole Johnson found himself in an unfriendly position as a sophomore.
Perhaps one of the favorites for the Division 1 state title in the 1,600 meters, Johnson was tripped up on the back straightaway during the race and fell off the pace. He eventually picked himself back up and fought hard to chase down the pack.
Johnson still finished a respectable third overall in 4:13.37, but far from his goal of a state crown and the greatness established by so many other former Rockford High School distance aces.
“I learned a bit from what happened to me last season,” recalled Johnson of his sophomore experience. “You have to put yourself in good position and not get boxed in. You have to get out fast. There’s too many good runners and I made a mistake.”
Bad luck continued in the fall of 2016 at the D-1 cross country state finals. An illness forced Johnson, one of the favorites, to the back of the pack — literally — as he finished dead last.
The Rockford junior left no doubt this time around in the 1,600 at the D-1 state meet, staving off Oak Park’s Cameron Cooper to win the battle in a sizzling 4:08.60. Cooper was second in 4:08.96.
“I knew it would come to down to the last 100,” smiled Johnson. “I saw (Cooper) go by me a little bit. That’s when I decided to (push it hard) for the finish line. It felt great to finally win it.”
Johnson debuted onto the scene in 2015 when he surprised some by taking fifth in the 1,600 at the D-1 finals with a 4:10.50 clocking — one of the fastest efforts for a freshman in state history. He was also 16th in the 3,200 (9:28.89) at the state meet, proving he would be a legitimate challenger in the future.
With great foot speed for middle distances, Johnson has also shined in the 800 meters, consistently placing high at a variety of meets. At the D-1 state meet as a sophomore, he placed fifth (1:54.13).
He emerged even better as a junior, winning the league, regional and MITCA meets before finishing second to the aforementioned Cooper at the state finals (1:52.99). At the recent Midwest Distance Galla, he won the event in a blistering 1:50.72 to rank high nationally, just like in the 1,600 meters.
Johnson also anchored the winning 3,200-meter relay at state as a sophomore, where the Rams’ foursome finished in 7:43.92 and came back to place fourth and post a 7:39.94 effort at the 2016 New Balance Outdoor Nationals.
At the New Balance Outdoor Nationals in 2017, Johnson won the 1-mile in 4:11.10, a slightly longer race than the 1,600 meters.
And to showcase his foot speed once again, he anchored Rockford’s 1,600 relay to a third-place finish (3:19.08) at this year’s D-1 state finals.
With his impressive resume, Johnson has joined an elite group of prep runners in Michigan in recent years and eyes some bigger prizes down the road. He wants to win the cross country title next fall and eventually break the magical 4-minute barrier in the 1,600.
“That’s the long-term goal,” added Johnson. “Breaking the 4-minutes barrier is one of the hardest thing to do in high school. But it’s a goal and one I hope can reach between now and the time I graduate.”