Sports

Johnson is a world champion

Brian Govier's selection as Mercer Island High School's Athlete of the Year came as no surprise in June.

After all, Govier raised the sport of cross country to the next level over his high school career.

During Govier's time at the high school the boys cross country team almost tripled in size and had an outside shot at the state title. The impact of Govier's career will be felt for years to come and that alone is enough to deserve the award.

However, there was another athlete at the school that had a huge impact on his teammates, coaches and opponents. Despite being a huge leader on all the teams he competed on Jesse Johnson could have easily gone unnoticed.

Johnson's sports and positions of choice are not subject to a lot of limelight like Govier. Outside of the Olympics, crew is rarely reported on in the mainstream media and is not a Mercer Island High School sport. But his career and Erg. times, which is the calculation of how fast and proficient a rower is, have rivaled the best high school crew members in Mount Baker's history.

``I have been sub-six minutes in the 2,000 meters and not too many high school athletes have done that,'' said Johnson.

He was recently selected to join the United State's Junior National Rowing Team for the second consecutive year. The team finished first this time to take the gold at the Junior World Rowing Championships, August 3-6 in Brandenburg, Germany.

``It was a lot of fun but I was in shock for a while,'' said Johnson. ``It was great to stand on the podium while they played the national anthem.''

Only 14 boys and 15 girls from around the nation are selected to compete for the team and Johnson is the only male athlete from Western Washington to be selected.

Johnson's rowing career will not end at Junior Nationals, as he will get two months off before joining his new crew team -- the University of Washington Huskies.

``It is a great team and a great school with a lot of cool people,'' said Johnson.

The Husky was also a huge force on the Mercer Island High School football team. But being a lineman is not the most glamorous of positions on the team.

He not only offered stability on the offensive and defensive line, but in the locker room as well. Johnson's work ethic carried over into wrestling. During his junior and senior seasons he took third in state at 215 pounds at the Mat Classic and was instrumental in the Islanders' back-to-back 3A KingCo titles in 2004 and 2005.

Johnson's impact on the teams he competed for was not confined to just his performance on the water, mat or field.

Over the past three years, many athletes have said Johnson is one of the best teammates. He is not a vocal leader, instead he lets his performance speak for itself. I remember Johnson helping younger wrestlers prepare during meets, including the KingCo championship meet.

KingCo for Johnson wasn't always the most competitive event, he would sometimes make his opponent second guess even being a wrestler. But the pressure was still there for him to win for the team and get the points that were almost a given when he stepped onto the mat. Plus the fact that it is the postseason, one wrong move and he could go home early.

During my time covering high school sports, Johnson was always willing to talk to me, no matter what happened in competition.

When the Mercer Island football team lost to Bellevue 68-0 last fall, no one wanted to talk to any of the reporters at the game. In that situation there are no easy questions or easy answers and all the interviews are a bit awkward. But even after a game like that, a reporter has to ask questions no matter how difficult it is. I knew that other than head coach Dick Nicholl, Johnson was the one player that was on the field for a majority of the game that would talk to me. He made no excuses, gave Bellevue his respect, blamed no one on the team for the drubbing and just said that he needed to work harder.

The truest test of a champion is not how they act in victory but how they take defeat. One of Johnson's ambitions was to win the state wrestling title. Johnson was poised to make that goal a reality after taking third in 2004, but his second match of the tournament resulted in a loss.

Johnson's response: ``It was a good match. He is really good on his feet. It was one of the better matches I have had this year as far as competition goes.''

That loss would have affected many people mentally in the next match. But Johnson regrouped. He dominated the next four matches to retain his third-place title.

I agree that Brian Govier deserved to be Athlete of the Year for what he did for cross country and winning the state title in 2003, but for me, Johnson is an athlete I will remember for a long time, not just for how he won but how he lost.

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