Coming into the 1,500-metre race, Jinson Johnson knew that he would have to make this one count to round off what has been a great year for the middle-distance runner from Kerala.

Johnson, a winner at the Federation Cup for the last two years, had gone to the Rio Olympics but his exploits had gone under the radar till 2018.

At the Commonwealth Games, Johnson finished second in a highly competitive field in the heats. He finished behind Elijah Manangoi of Kenya, the 2017 World Championships gold medallist, in Heat 2.

Breaking two national records

In the final, Timothy Cheruiyot, another Kenyan medallist at the Worlds, would add to a tough pool of runners. Johnson, to his credit, finished fifth, a commendable performance given the depth of the Commonwealth 1,500 metres field.

With a timing of 3:37.86, Johnson broke Bahadur Prasad’s long-standing (since 1995) record in the event. The 27-year-old had come into his own in a fast race and more than held his ground before ceding space to some truly world-class runners.

That wasn’t the shock of the year though. His performance at the Inter-State Championships in Guwahati was, when he broke India’s longest-standing record in athletics, which had stood for 42 years. Johnson had come close to it during the qualifying for Rio but was just 0.21 seconds off the 1:45.77 mark set by Sriram Singh in the 800m at the 1976 Olympics. In Guwahati, the record finally gave way.

The 800m had been his bread and butter all these years. While a silver, his first Asian Games medal, was a commendable achievement, it would have hurt, because he came second behind a man he had bested at the Federation Cup and the Inter-State.

A well-timed charge

By his own admission, his finishing needed polishing. In the 800 metres, Jinson timed his charge late but Manjit Singh came from behind to stun the rest of the field while India’s national record holder could only watch.

In the 1,500 metres, it was a reversal of roles. Due to his 800m gold, Manjit was boxed in for long periods till he broke late.

“Yes, it was a sweet revenge for me because these Games come after four years. My weak point is finishing but today I kept energy for the last 80m run,” Jinson would say after the race.

He let Iraq’s Adnan Agar and Iran’s Amir Moradi do all the early huffing and puffing, as he held back in the initial three laps. Johnson was third at the 1200-metre mark, timing his burst perfectly.

As Agar faded, Manjit started bursting through on the outside, in search of his second gold of these Games. Unfortunately, having held himself at third from last for much of the race, the charge wasn’t able to compensate for Johnson’s late dash.

Jinson was less perturbed, having hung in third for most of the race, waiting to pounce. He shifted gears and eventually made up the two positions. In the end, the win came with more than 10 metres to spare.

The runner, in the end, had made sure it wasn’t a hassled end to the race. It was victory, sweet and simple in a race that is as tactical as it gets. His calls were spot on, as Johnson became only the fourth Indian to win Asiad medals in both the 800m and 1500m at the same Games.