Despite being one of the youngest members of Team Bahamas at the 34th CARIFTA Swimming Championships at the Barbados Aquatic Centre, in Wildey, Barbados, Marvin Johnson Jr. made a name for himself, swimming away with 14 gold medals overall – 10 individual gold and four relay gold medals.
The 12-year-old scored a total of 90 points, winning the high point award in the 11-12 boys division, and also scoring the most points in the four-day swim meet which was held over the Easter holiday weekend.
Individually, Johnson won gold in the 50, 100, 200 and 400 meters (m) free events, the 50, 100 and 200m backstroke events, the 50 and 100m butterfly events, and the 200m Individual Medley (IM). In the relays, he won gold in the 4×50 and 4x100m freestyle events, the 4x100m medley relay, and the 4x100m mixed freestyle relay.
At last year’s CARIFTA Championships, Johnson finished with 29.5 points, and with a year experience under his belt, he was expected to perform much better this year, and he did. Johnson said that he really worked hard over the last year to get to where he is today. He said that for him, the meet was excellent and he will be training for the CCCAN Championships later this summer.
The Central American and Caribbean Swimming Federation (CCCAN) Championships is set for June 28 to July 2, right back in Barbados.
“CARIFTA was an excellent meet for me. It was my highest point total by far. I am extremely happy with my performance, and hopefully I could come back to Barbados for CCCAN to represent The Bahamas again,” said Johnson. “I made that goal from the first year in the 11-12 boys age group – to win 10 gold medals. I want to thank Dr. Tanya Bethel at the radiology department, my parents and my coaches. They brought me through it,” he added.
Marvin’s parents, Marvin Johnson Sr. and Karon Pinder-Johnson, were in Barbados supporting their son and excitedly watching him win gold after gold. Pinder-Johnson said that Marvin Jr. has set standards for himself, and as parents, they try to help him achieve his goals.
“It was really exciting. Marvin sets really high goals for himself. Prior to CARIFTA, he always said that in his 10 individual events that he was going to win gold. He also said that he was going to try his best to help his team win gold in the relays. They are the standards that he set for himself. As parents, we try to nurture it and communicate on a regular basis with him on how he is going to achieve those goals. By doing that, it has helped with his training regimen and his focus in school and wanting more for himself,” Pinder-Johnson said.
Andy Loveitt, Johnson’ coach, was an assistant coach for Team Bahamas in Barbados. He said that the performance was outstanding.
“That is the only word to describe his performance. He has worked very hard to get to this point, and still is a work in progress as he is still only 12-years-old,” said Loveitt. “The award he won on the last night for the winning the 200m and 400m freestyle, has been won by a select group of people from 2002 and they have gone on to be Olympians. The Olympics is Marvin’s ultimate goal and we are getting through to that. At 12-years-old he has put himself on the path of Dylan Carter who is on top of the world now. Technically, he can be a whole lot better. His work ethic is good and he has all the attributes to get to the top just as Joanna Evans has. There is no reason to believe that he can’t do a similar job,” added Loveitt.
Johnson made it look easy, winning all those medals, but said it was a difficult process, and one he’s glad is over.
“It was extremely difficult to win 10 individual golds. At some point, I wanted to give up because I was tired and didn’t know what was going to happen. I was shivering before races but once I hit the water, I was a different person,” Johnson recalled. The swimming sensation added: “My teammates knew that I was looking for it. They promised me before we swam that they were going to try their best to make it a reality and they did.”
Coach Loveitt said he never goes into a meet thinking that a swimmer is going to win every race.
“I go into a meet knowing that certain swimmers are going to swim well but you never know what other opposition is out there so to say that he was going to win all golds, I didn’t know he was going to do that. I knew he was going to perform really well – which he has done. I knew it was a four-day meet and he was going to get more tired toward the end. The 200m backstroke was his hardest race because he was physically tired but he stepped up to it and got a personal best time after four days of hard work.” Loveitt said.
Johnson’s mother said his training regimen includes dry land training where he is exposed to distance running, and training in the weight room and of course the pool. She singled out Coach Loveitt who she said has psychologically gotten through to Johnson, and has him believing in himself. She said that Loveitt is one of the reasons to Marvin’s success.
The 200m backstroke was Johnson’s 10th and final individual race of the meet. That was the race that sealed his remarkable individual run. He said: “My favorite race by far was the 200m backstroke. I was scared going in, it was my last individual event. After winning the gold it was unbelievable.”
Coming down to the final 50m of the race, with Johnson looking like he had locked up first place, the Bahamian supporters were boisterous cheering him on with sweet junkanoo music from drum, cowbells, and horns, and other noise-making instruments.
Over on the athletes and coaches’ side, his teammates and coaches were screaming and cheering him on. Johnson touched the wall with the timer showing 2:28.26, securing his goal of winning 10 individual gold medals.
Brady Macpherson-Lewison, of Jamaica, couldn’t keep up with Johnson. He finished second in 2:29.83. Third place went to Trinidad & Tobago’s Giovanni Rivas, in 2:32.51.
Johnson walked away with the Landon Von Kanel Memorial Award – given to any winner of the 11-12 boys 200m and 400m freestyle races. Von Kanel was the Cayman Islands’ first CARIFTA medalist. At the age of 12, he won gold in those two events at CARIFTA in 1996 in Barbados. Unfortunately, he died in a tragic accident in 2001. In 2002, the award was created in his honor for young swimmers who replicated his double gold feat. Johnson said it was a true honor to win that award.
“It is a true honor to win that award because the previous winners are Olympians. To win that award means that I am on the right track and I was continuing to do my best,” Johnson said.
Johnson also has his eyes set on next year’s CARIFTA Games that will be back in Barbados. He said he will be going for much gold medals as possible.
“As long as I train hard and do my best I should be able to be ready for next year. I am trying to get as much gold as possible,” he said.
Loveitt added that Johnson already knows the talent in the 13-14 age group, including Bahamian Nigel Forbes who had a great meet at CARIFTA as well.
“He already knows that there are people like Nigel Forbes out of Freeport and Zarek Wilson and Nikoli Blackman from Trinidad and Tobago in that age group,” said Loveitt. “This year Nigel went out and did very well and came back with a lot of medals. Marvin has to go back and work on his technique during the winter, come back stronger and go into that 13-14 category knowing that he is not there to make finals but to go there and win medals,” added Loveitt.
Loveitt said the Freeport swimmers work hard on a regular basis, and have an inner drive to be at the top.
Pinder-Johnson, who works at the YMCA in Freeport, Grand Bahama, said that she grateful for those who had played a huge role in her son’s development.
“Swimming is not a cheap sport. Thanks to the YMCA and my employment there, that has deferred some of the cost for us. As an employee, Marvin is allowed to participate in all the events at the YMCA. It has been a cornerstone in his development throughout his life,” Pinder-Johnson said.
Johnson said he will take some time out to relax with his family, and then it’s back to the pool for him.
Johnson has tremendous support from his family, who he said goes above and beyond the call of duty to support and encourage him.
He said his family is an athletic one, and genetics plays a part in his drive and ability. The family line includes the elder Johnson, a former basketball and track athlete, older sister Carlene, a former track athlete turned national team rugby player, and his uncles Samuel and Jeffery “Cheese” Pinder, who were national team and collegiate basketball players. His aunts Kim and Maureen Pinder were national team and collegiate basketball players as well, and then there is his grandmother Althea Rolle-Clarke who was a track and field pioneer in The Bahamas.
This year, the Bishop Michael Eldon School student will be taking five Bahamas Junior Certificate (BJC) examinations, and his parents are excited about the path that he is on academically and athletically.
Indeed, Marvin Johnson Jr. is a name that is expected to be heard quite often in swimming in The Bahamas. He will be one to look out for at the Bahamas Aquatics Federation’s (BAF) National Swimming Championships this summer, as well as future meets, locally, regionally and internationally.
Education: College of the Bahamas, BA Media Journalism