Cheswill Johnson possesses a level of genius that has allowed him to launch himself into the sport’s stratosphere
Newcomer Cheswill Johnson and veteran Sunette Viljoen have a couple of things in common — they coach themselves and they both possess tremendous self-belief
● Some have called him crazy for not having a coach, but perhaps long-jumper Cheswill Johnson possesses a level of genius that has allowed him to launch himself into the sport’s stratosphere.
The University of Johannesburg logistics management student has kept improving despite training on his own for three years.
He recently jumped an 8.26m personal best that beat the Olympic qualifying distance and put him into an early world lead.
“I’ve had a lot of people tell me it’s not the best to be training alone. They told me I couldn’t make it, which I took as motivation because if you work hard at anything, why not?
“And here, I’ve qualified for the Olympics,” added Johnson, who intends to keep SA’s constellation of long-jumpers shining after Khotso Mokoena, Luvo Manyonga, Ruswahl Samaai and Zarck Visser.
Qualifying for the Games is no easy job in track and field. Before this weekend only 12 SA athletes had clocked qualifying standards in individual events for Tokyo, and they don’t include reigning Olympic 400m champion Wayde van Niekerk nor women’s javelin silver medallist Sunette Viljoen.
Like Johnson, Viljoen, 37, has also been training without a coach for a few years, and having finally beaten the back injury that plagued her for a while, she’s confident of getting back to her best by Tokyo.
Johnson, 23, says he has gleaned much from the three coaches he’s worked with previously.
At competitions he tries to get someone to watch his run-ups for extra feedback; Viljoen sometimes videos some throws to get assessed. “It doesn’t worry me, I know what to do,” said Viljoen.
Johnson takes an academic approach. “I analyse things a lot. I’ve learned different things from all three [coaches] and it’s helped me understand the sport.
“I would say I have the knowledge of a coach already. I could basically coach kids right now.”
Johnson, who in 2018 ended fourth at the World Student Games and fifth at the African championships, has no intention of going to Japan to be an also-ran.
“I can’t go with the goal I had last year [before the Games were delayed], which was to qualify and make the final. I feel my performances of the last few weeks make me feel I have a chance at getting a medal.
“That is my main goal.”
He estimates third place will require at least 8.30m, although at the last three Games it has ranged from 8.12 at London 2012 to 8.29 last time out.
“Most of the distances I’ve been jumping have been over 8.30, but they’ve been nojumps. But probably by April, at the national championships, I’ll jump further than my personal best.”
The irony is that, as a kid growing up in the working-class suburbs of Eden Park and Vosloorus, he never saw himself persevering with long jump. Sprinting was his passion, competing in both the 100m and 200m as well as the long and high jumps.
“I thought I was going to be very good at the 200 because at high school I could trust that event — that was where I beat most people.
“I never thought I’d see jumping as my main event. I never expected long jump. That was the last one I would have picked.”
But that changed when he competed at his first club meeting at the age of 18. “I jumped a distance of 7.50. It was wind-aided, but in my head I was thinking ‘this is crazy’.
“I just got here and I suddenly jump something most people my age in SA can’t jump. It was a real shocker. Back in primary school and early high school years I didn’t want to do long jump much.”
Johnson still sprints, however. He was set to do the 100m at the Athletix Invitational at Ruimsig this past Tuesday. His plan was to deliver a winning jump on his first attempt and then parachute from that competition into the 100m.
But it didn’t work out that way, and he had to skip the dash to fight for his victory, which came on his final jump of 8.14m.
Younger brother Elviano is a classy sprinter, being the second-fastest under-20 100m racer in the country last year. His 10.28 best is close to Cheswill’s 10.26.
“It’s in the genes,” added Johnson. Their older step-sister, Anastacia, cracked distinctions in matric, as did Elviano, who matriculated from the Tuks high school last year.
Cheswill didn’t get a distinction. “I’m the weird one,” he joked. At Eden Park secondary there weren’t always enough desks or textbooks for the pupils, which made studying challenging.
He’s looking for long-jump distinction.
‘I never thought I’d see jumping as my main event. I never expected long jump’