Q&A with Torrey Pines hurdle star Karina Janik
Torrey Pines track and field standout Karina Janik, just a junior, has already lived quite a unique life. A native of Poland, who came to the United States with her family as an eighth grader, Janik has an identical twin sister, Dominika, is a straight A student and an accomplished horseback rider.
As of last Saturday, she has a new title—CIF champion. The speedy, 5-foot-4 Janik outran a stellar group of opponents to win the section title in the 300m hurdles, clocking a personal best and Torrey Pines school record of 42.38. Her sister finished fourth and both earned berths in this weekend’s CIF State Championships at Buchanan High School in Clovis.
The Carmel Valley resident is not only San Diego’s best at her specialty but more than capable in a variety of events. Janik typically vies in the 100m hurdles and on both the 4x100 and 4x400 relay teams, has competed in every race from the 100 to 800m and even tried her hand at the long jump. She’s the fastest 400 runner on the Falcon team and recorded the squad’s best 800m time of the season on a relay split.
Torrey Pines’ Head Coach Charlenne Falcis-Stevens says a focus on continual improvement and mental toughness have been keys to her success in 2022. “For Karina to finish first at CIF against a field of that caliber (the top four finishers were within a second) shows what kind of grit she has,” said Falcis-Stevens. “This year, she’s been more consistent in the weight room, her technique is a lot sharper, she knows her timing to the hurdles and overall, she’s just a much stronger athlete.
“Karina is naturally gifted but she’s also a perfectionist who pays attention to the details. She trains like she competes.”
With the State meet rapidly approaching, the soon-to-be 17-year-old Janik spent time recently sharing her thoughts on a variety of topics, including the section championship race, why she likes hurdling events and what it’s like competing with a twin sister on the team.
Q—How excited were you to win the 300m hurdles at last week’s CIF Championships?
JANIK—I was very excited, I wasn’t expecting that. The girls’ competition in San Diego for the 300 hurdles is very strong and I knew everyone was going to be fast. For me to be the first to the finish line was going to take my best race.
When I looked at the time and realized my sister and I had both made state, I was so happy.
Q—You beat a great field that included runners like San Diego High’s Charlize James, Cathedral Catholic’s Kapiolani Coleman, 100m hurdles champion Aaliyah McCormick from Scripps Ranch and your sister, Dominika. What was your mindset heading into the race?
JANIK—I just wanted to get out strong and run my best race. I didn’t feel I’d run my top race since the Escondido Invitational (April 22). Lately, I had been running pretty good times in less competitive races, just getting out fast, then easing up to save energy for other events. In the CIF finals, I was looking to run a really good time.
Q—What was going through your mind at various points of the race?
JANIK—Out of the blocks, I felt pretty good and the first two hurdles were solid. Any struggles I’ve had have usually come on the curve and I got a little distracted this time too. I was in lane 5 and had Kapiolani and Aaliyah in front of me in six and seven.
I felt Charlize come out inside inside in lane three and peeked at her for a second. That caused my next two hurdles to be a little wonky. I try not to focus on the other people too much and think I did a pretty good job of re-setting after that. I concentrated on the hurdles, snapping my trail leg through and making sure my form was good. I thought I finished strong.
Q—Why do you think the 300m hurdles is your best event?
JANIK—Well, having hurdles makes it more fun than just running in a circle. It also gives you a race that has a series of shorter goals, which is how I look at concentrating from hurdle to hurdle. I run the 100 hurdles as well but there I find it hard to comfortably three-step between hurdles. I naturally lead with my left leg but am confident leading with either and that’s easier in the 300. Also, I think the longer distance works in my favor.
The 300m hurdles is a unique race because the winner is typically the person who can hold her form the best. There’s a mental aspect to it, because you’ve got to stay tall and focus on the form, not just throw everything you’ve got into it like, say the 400.
Q—What can you tell us about your family background and when you got introduced to sports?
JANIK—Our family—mom, dad and sister—is from Poland. We lived near Warsaw, the capital. After my seventh grade year in school, we moved to Carmel Valley when my father took a new job within his company, Johnson & Johnson.
Neither of my parents were particularly involved in sports. My sister and I started contemporary dancing when we were six and stayed with it through ninth grade. We’ve been horseback riding for 10 years, specializing in show jumping.
We always do the same things and have been involved in track & field since fifth grade but mostly just training, not competing. We had done a little hurdle drill work in Poland but no racing. In ninth grade when we went out for the Torrey Pines team, the hurdles coach, Ryan Bath, told us we had good natural form. We ran good times in the team trials and have been there ever since.
Q—How difficult was the move from Poland and what do you like best about living in San Diego?
JANIK—Leaving all my friends and family behind was hard. I didn’t know English that well—that was the most stressful thing. Fortunately, Carmel Valley Middle School had an English learning program which made things easier.
There is a lot to like about San Diego. The nice weather for one and the ocean being only five minutes away for another. We lived in central Poland and access to the ocean was about four hours away. When we got here I went to the beach nearly every day in summer.
The education is also better. There is more spirit at Torrey Pines than my previous schools and more school activities as well. It feels like maybe I’ve become more talkative and open to new people since coming here. It seems like I’m meeting new people all the time.
Q—One can only assume that there are very few 300m hurdlers who are also proficient at show jumping. Why did you get involved in that sport?
JANIK—In Poland, we lived close to a stable. One of our neighbors brought my sister and me there and we got really fascinated with horses. We started taking lessons and got very into that. We’ve kept it up since moving here and now go to the San Diego Riding Academy in Lakeside.
I really like the fact that I can connect and have a relationship with an animal. It’s good for your character because you have to understand that it’s not all about you—a horse can have a bad day too. You need to learn how to communicate with the horse. It’s a lot of fun and when you’ve got it right, it feels like you’re flying.
Q—Your sister, Dominika, also qualified for the State Championships in the 300m hurdles. How cool is it that both of you will be competing there? Is there any kind of sibling rivalry?
JANIK—I think it’s pretty exciting. My sister and I are very close and I think that fact that we are so close makes us not only good friends but very competitive in a positive sort of way. We are always pushing each other every day, whether it’s at practice or in a meet. Neither of us wants to be worse than the other (laugh), so you could say there’s a rivalry. We’re very similar and make each other better.
We have some mutual friends so we all hang out with each other a lot. We also like to go on walks and do things like that together, just the two of us. Sometimes it seems like kind of a love-hate relationship but I think you could say she’s my best friend.
Q—Speaking of the State meet, what type of goal do you have there? Will it be significantly different just having one event rather than the four you regularly run?
JANIK—My basic goal is to hit a p.r. again and get as good a place as I can. For sure, the runners from San Diego will be in the mix and I know there are a couple of other girls who have run under 43.
I actually like having one event before the 300m hurdles because it sets up my mind well, kind of a warm-up. But, I don’t really mind not having one because I’ll have more energy.
At the end of the day, time is more important than place because placing depends, at least partially, on the competition and you can’t control that. It would be nice to be a State champion though.
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