Exactly 10 weeks to go until the opening day of athletics at the Olympic Games and Bershawn Jackson has the form to go with the omen.
Jackson remains in the hunt for the ÅF Golden League $1m Jackpot after winning the men’s 400m Hurdles at the the Exxon Mobil Bislett Games tonight, five days after his victory in Berlin. Two Golden League wins out of two and Jackson, you can tell, has his eyes on the prize.
“Who got knocked out so far?” he eagerly wanted to know shortly after his event had finished in the Bislett Stadium. At that time, given that the men’s 400m Hurdles was one of the earlier events, the answer was nobody. However, by the end of the evening, of the seven jackpot-chasers seeking a second victory, only five remained.
“It feels great,” Jackson said of his victory by three metres, in world’s second fastest time of the year. Only his United States compatriot, Kerron Clement, has run quicker in 2008. Clement’s world leading mark is 47.79. Jackson clocked 48.15 while the evergreen 36-year-old Jamaican, Danny McFarlane, placed second in 48.58.
“Everyone doubted me,” the 25-year-old Jackson said. “People said I couldn’t do it. I had one bad season last year, didn’t make it to the finals in Osaka (World Championships) and people forgot about me, so it’s a great victory. I had one bad year and I’m totally forgotten about but I’m a warrior, a fighter, and I’m back this year.”
Who doubted him exactly? “The track world,” he said. “Every meet I went to, at press conferences. I came out this year and wasn’t even talked about. When they emphasised a race, they said: ‘In this race we have Kerron Clement, James Carter.’ I was never mentioned – after one bad season."
"It hurts me to know that, if you have one bad year, you’re totally forgotten. I went from having my own room to having room-mates. Just last week a guy – I’m not going to call his name out – said I didn’t have a chance of winning (the Jackpot) – that the only person who has a chance is the high jumper (Blanka Vlasic). So this is for the critics, the people who doubted me.”
Jackson was World champion in Helsinki in 2005, having narrowly failed to make the US Olympic team in 2004, when he hit the last hurdle. Which is where the omen comes in.
In Osaka, Jackson hit the last hurdle and lost out on a place in the final. “It was the last hurdle in the Olympic trials, the last hurdle in Osaka,” he pointed out. “So, if you think about it, in ‘04 I crashed the last hurdle, didn’t make the team, came back in ‘05 and won the Worlds. Last year I crashed the last hurdle. Let’s see what happens this year.”
Reflecting on his self-professed ‘bad year’ in 2007, Jackson attributed it to injuries. “In my second race of the season I ran 48.13 in Osaka and pulled my hamstring. I was out for a month and a half, came back, and pulled my groin. I came back and pulled my hamstring again, right before Osaka. I was healthy in Osaka but the main thing was I didn’t have enough meets. Every time I got injured I couldn’t compete.”
Prior to this season, Jackson would run with a trademark headband in memory of his uncle, Richard Jackson, who encouraged him to pursue athletics. He still does but now with the addition of a tribute to his daughter, Shawnti. From this season, he started wearing her name on his shoes. “She is my biggest motivation,” he said.
“My whole plan was to get out hard tonight, execute the back stretch, and come home strong – and that was exactly what I did. I had a pretty bad – not good – race in Berlin because I was a bit tired. I felt stronger today and my home stretch came through and I ran a pretty impressive time.”
Needing to win his event at the four remaining Golden League meetings – in Rome, Paris, Zurich and Brussels – either to scoop the Jackpot outright or share in it, Jackson said he might begin to feel the pressure only if he remains unbeaten after four. The final two meetings fall after the Olympics in Beijing. “It’s going to really kick in after the Olympics, after we tire, and people are aiming at me,” he said.
David Powell for the IAAF