NEW YORK (09-Feb) -- Reigning USATF 1500m champion Sinclaire Johnson was only 14 years-old when Canada's Sheila Reid became the first-ever Wanamaker Mile champion in the women's division in 2013. Millrose Games organizers did not attached the famous Wanamaker tag to a women's event until a year earlier when the NYRR Wanamaker Metric Mile for Women, a 1500m race, was added to the program, part of a meet's overhaul after it was moved from its traditional home at Madison Square Garden to the Nike Track & Field Center at The Armory in Upper Manhattan (Jenny Simpson won that race). This was all news to Johnson who is just 24 and entering her fourth season as a pro.
PHOTO: Sinclaire Johnson winning the 2022 USATF Outdoor Track & Field Championships 1500m in Eugene, Oregon, in 4:03.29 (photo by Jane Monti for Race Results Weekly)
"Ten years ago, I was 14 years-old; I wasn't even in the sport of track and field," Johnson told Race Results Weekly at a press conference here this morning. "Ten years ago was 2013. To think that only just then there was a women's mile, a recognized women's Wanamaker Mile, is just pretty crazy to think. It feels like that should have been done a long time ago."
Under the coaching of Pete Julian at the Nike Union Athletics Club in Portland, Ore., Johnson --who is originally from Altamonte Springs, Fla.-- has risen rapidly to the top of American middle distance running. The Wanamaker Mile was her first-ever pro race back in 2020 when the meet was held just before the pandemic shutdown. Johnson finished last in a field of 12, clocking what was then a personal best of 4:34.65. Instead of feeling down about her result, that race left a lasting impression on her of how exciting the Millrose Games can be where nearly 6000 track-crazed spectators sit just a few meters from the field of play.
"I've only raced here once, 2020 (and) I did not do very well," Johnson said, allowing herself a little laugh. "So definitely coming here is kind of a little revenge. It was pretty cool to come into that stadium the first time and just have the fans feel like they're right on top of you. I feel like that creates so much of the atmosphere at the Armory, and that's why people run as fast as they do."
Indeed, they do run fast on the Armory's 200m banked oval. In that 2020 race Elinor Purrier ran an all-comers record of 4:16.85, the #2 performance of all-time and the still-standing American indoor record. Purrier, who is now on maternity leave, led three other women under the 4:20 barrier that day including Johnson's Union Athletics Club teammate, Konstanze Klosterhalfen of Germany, who ran a national record 4:17.26. A year earlier, Klosterhalfen was herself the Wanamaker champion running 4:19.98.
Julian has been the perfect coach for Johnson, who trained previously under Jerry Schumacher at the Nike Bowerman Track Club. Schumacher's program was more endurance-based, Johnson said, while Julian works more on speed. She also likes that she has a better dialog with Julian, a former 13:33.02 5000m runner who survived multiple surgeries for stomach cancer.
"He's very devoted," Johnson said of Julian, 51. "I think he really takes to heart not only our training but us as people, and he really tries to invest wholly in our success in that way. One thing I really appreciate about him is that our relationship is really a collaboration. He's not a coach who is just going to tell me to do things and I just go quietly follow them. Sometimes there's a little bit of push-back from the athlete because we have been doing this for so long that we know our bodies better than anyone. So, I do appreciate that he will at least take that into account. He's not going to always say, 'you're right,' but at least to have him listen to you and acknowledge that, that's very valuable."
After winning the national 1500m title last June at Hayward Field in Eugene, Ore., Johnson came back three weeks later at the same stadium to take sixth in the same event at the World Athletics Championships, firmly establishing herself as one of the world's best milers. She also lowered her 1500m personal best to 3:58.85 last May, and got her 800m time down to 1:59.90. She now looks at herself as a contender whenever she lines up for a race, including Saturday's mile here where she is likely to smash her indoor and outdoor personal bests by at least ten seconds.
"The goal is to win; that would be a good result," Johnson said flatly, but was quick to point out that Britain's Laura Muir --the reigning Commonwealth and European 1500m champion-- will be tough to beat. "I'm not someone who cares really too much about time. When it comes to the biggest stages it's about beating people. So, that's what I'm coming out to do on Saturday. I think when you're beating the likes of Laura Muir and the rest of the field, you're going to run fast. That's my focus."