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Olympian Alysia Montano: The fire within

Canyon graduate Alysia Montano is determined to take home her first gold medal

Posted: July 22, 2012 1:55 a.m.
Updated: July 22, 2012 1:55 a.m.

Canyon graduate Alysia Montano (5) reacts after winning the women's 800m final at the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials on June 25 in Eugene, Ore. Montano, formerly known as Alysia Johnson, qualified for the 2012 Olympic Games in the event, with heats starting Aug. 8.

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If only written words could translate the sound of fire in Canyon High graduate Alysia Montano’s voice.


It’s silly, she says, to ask how dead serious she is about winning a gold medal in the 800-meter run at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.


“I think anyone who will compete in any race is dead serious about winning a gold,” Montano said. “I think if you don’t have that mentality going into any race, you don’t belong there. I’m dead serious about being able to go there and winning. These are dreams we’re chasing. Track and field isn’t about money. This is about a dream I’ve been chasing since I was a little girl.”


At what point did Montano, formerly Alysia Johnson before she got married to fellow 2004 Canyon High graduate Louis Montano, think she could actually compete for a gold medal in the Olympics?


Apparently early on.


As a freshman, she won the 800-meters at the CIF-Southern Section Masters Meet — the qualifier for the state track and field championships.


In her four years at Canyon High, she won 16 Foothill League track and field championships, three CIF-Southern Section Division I championships in the 800 and a state title in the event as a senior.


“I kind of have always been that girl that felt like I could do the impossible — the highest tier of what I was doing,” Montano says. “Anything I could set my mind to, I was going to try my best. At even things like housework. Any chores or project around the house, I can’t do it halfway.”


Don’t take that literally, she says.


Her specialty isn’t cleaning house.


It’s running.
And she has done it better than most female athletes in the United States for years.


She had a storied career at the University of California, Berkeley.


At Cal, Johnson won NCAA titles in the indoor and outdoor 800-meter events as a junior in 2007. She set a school record at the NCAA Outdoor Championships with a time of 1 minute, 59.29 seconds, which was the third-fastest in collegiate history.


Johnson was a five-time NCAA All-American, a two-time Pac-10 800-meter champion and the 2007 and 2008 Pac-10 Women’s Track Athlete of the Year.


In 2008, she was positioned to reach the Olympic Games in Beijing, but a stess fracture stopped her journey.


Since that point, she made London a target.


On June 25, she ran the 800-meter final in Eugene, Ore. at the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials with an opportunity to finally make the U.S. Olympic team.


She shot out quickly and took a large lead and eventually held off the competition to finish first with a time of 1:59.08.


The 800 meters begins with heats on Aug. 8 at London’s Olympic Stadium. The semifinals are Aug. 9, followed by the finals on Aug. 11.


Montano’s mark of 1:57.37 on June 1 is the third best mark in the world this year.


The top two times belong to Kenyan runner Pamela Jelimo (1:56.76 and 1:56.94).


Montano is not interested in speculation or thinking about the future.


There’s no use in her adding more pressure.


In fact, the Olympic Games’ Opening Ceremonies, a highlight for most athletes, is also not much of a thought for her at this point.


“I’m really not building it up,” she says. “My coach and I talked about protecting your mentality — not holding anything too high. I’m going with the same approach as any competition. When I say I’m one day at a time, Saturday’s practice is getting me one step to where I need to be. I’m not really looking after that.”


So it seems, her desire, her will, her focus is impenetrable.


Those close to Montano have talked about her competitiveness and how fierce it is.


“I want to be the best at everything I’m doing,” Montano says.


Doesn’t that say it all?

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