Chelsea Johnson opens 2009 with a victory in Reno (Kirby Lee) © Copyright
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Johnson and Niedermeyer the winners at Reno Pole Vault Summit

Reno, Nevada, USAChelsea Johnson couldn’t wait to get her 2009 season started at the National Pole Vault Summit at the Reno Events Livestock Center on Friday (2).

Putting behind a rocky 2008 campaign was equally in Johnson’s thoughts.

Johnson won the 19th annual meeting at 4.45m on a count back over 2008 World Indoor bronze medallist Fabiana Murer of Brazil.

The Reno victory went a long way toward erasing a disappointing showing at the 2008 U.S. Olympic Trials in July where she tied for seventh after coming into the meet with high aspirations of making the U.S. team for Beijing.

“That’s why I was probably eager to get this year going right now,” said Johnson, who turned 25 on 20 Dec. “I felt that I have to redeem myself. Why not just start from there and go from here?"

Johnson and Murer both cleared 4.45m on their second attempt before three misses at 4.50m. Johnson, however, scaled her opening height of 4.25m on her first attempt while Murer was over on her second try to claim the victory.

Lacy Jansen was third at 4.35m, followed by Becky Holiday and former World record holder Stacy Dragila in fourth and fifth, both at 4.25m.

“The first meet you are a little nervous and you have a lot of things to work out but I feel that I adjusted well today and competed to the best of my abilities to where I am in training right now,” Johnson said.

Darren Niedermyer won the men’s competition in a career-best 5.60m over Rory Quiler (5.50m) in front of an audience that included spectators Brad Walker, Jeff Hartwig, Toby Stevenson and Tommy Skipper.

Misfortune in 2008 for Johnson, now looking to Berlin and Beyond

Johnson, who set the collegiate record of 4.60m in 2006 and was a 2004 Indoor and 2006 Outdoor NCAA champion at UCLA, broke her left wrist after shattering a pole in practice last April. The vibrations from the accident was enough to fracture her wrist and cause a deep bone bruise on the palm of her hand.

Johnson was in a cast for six weeks but rebounded to set a personal best of 4.73m in June to move into third on the all-time U.S. list behind Jenn Stuczynski and Stacy Dragila.

At the U.S. Trials the following week, however, Johnson suffered a cramp in her right hamstring on her first attempt in the finals and tied for seventh at 4.40m.

“It was such a helpless feeling,” Johnson said. “In the pole vault, everything is your run and I felt that I couldn’t even run down the runway. It was probably the worst day possible.’’

The Reno meeting was the first of a lengthy indoor campaign for Johnson that includes stops at the Run for the Dream meet in Fresno on 19 Jan., the Millrose Games on 30 Jan. and the USATF Indoor Championships 28 Feb.- 1 Mar.

“I am not really a practice jumper so I am taking advantage of the indoor season,” Johnson said.

Johnson’s ultimate objective will be making the U.S. team for the Berlin World Championships in August. Johnson, who was fourth in the 2004 U.S. Olympic Trials as a UCLA sophomore, is doing her best to avoid looking ahead to the 2012 London Olympics for the moment.

"Competing isn’t all about the Olympics,” Johnson said. “My goal right now is putting the time in practice and doing things I need to do to make that team to Berlin."

Family Ties

Johnson is coached by her father Jan Johnson, the 1972 Olympic bronze medallist and 1971 U.S. Outdoor champion.

Chelsea was reluctant to take up pole vaulting until her senior year at Atascadero High in Central California because of her father’s accomplishments. She usually practice alone with her father to avoid scrutiny.

“I didn’t want to compete until I was good. It’s quite a load on your shoulders,” Johnson said.

Chelsea’s outlook has changed after finishing her collegiate eligibility at UCLA in 2006. She moved from Los Angeles back to her hometown of San Luis Obispo to reunite with her father.

“I have 100 percent complete faith in the whole system. I think that’s really important to believe in what you’re doing and not have any doubts,” Johnson said. “Now I am just proud of him and don’t feel the pressure being Jan’s daughter at all. He accomplished amazing things and to be half as good as him would be an accomplishment."

Kirby Lee for the IAAF

Results -

Men -
1. Darren Niedermeyer (USA)      5.60m
2. Rory Quiller (USA)            5.50m
3. Brian Mondeschein (USA)       5.40m
3. Paul Gensic (USA)             5.40m
5. Tim Mack (USA)                5.40m
6. Giovanni Lanaro (MEX)         5.30m
7. Nick Hysong (USA)             5.30m
8. Graeme Hoste (USA)            5.20m
8. Mark Hollis (USA)             5.20m
10. Paul Litchfield (USA)        5.20m
11. Chris Steddeum (USA)         5.10m

Women -
1. Chelsea Johnson (USA)     4.45m
2. Fabiana Murer (BRA)       4.45m
3. Lacy Janson (USA)         4.35m
4. Becky Holiday (USA)       4.25m
5. Stacy Dragila (USA)       4.25m