Michael Johnson is one of the greatest sprinters of all time, and in the 1990s he dominated the 200m and 400m, going undefeated in the latter for seven years. Born in Dallas in 1967, he studied at Baylor University and was spotted by coach Clyde Hart. After gaining a degree, he committed to full-time athletics and in 1991 won the 200m world title. Sadly, food poisoning denied him individual success at the Barcelona Olympics, but he helped the US 4x400m relay team to gold. From 1993, Johnson went undefeated in the 400m for 58 races and in 1996 achieved the 200m-400m double at the Atlanta Olympics, setting world records in both. He retired in 2001 having won 8 world and 4 Olympic gold medals.
No, I have never run a marathon and don't think I will ever consider it. Transcript: "Have I ever run a marathon, and would I ever consider it? I've never run a marathon and don't think I'll consider. it's just not something that I'm interested in. Interestingly, when I was a sprinter, the longest I ever ran when I was training was one mile. Every year, at the beginning of the year in our off-season training, Coach would have us run a mile. And we thought that was serious distance. And I used to see people out running, and I would think, why would anyone ever want to do that? It looks boring. But after I finished and retired from my career, I found myself really enjoying running. So for many years after I retired from my athletic career I, did go out for, you know, three-, four-mile runs a couple of times a week. Now I hike more than I do running. But no, just not interested in the marathon."
Coaches weren't keen on my running style, but one coach at Baylor University didn't ask me to change and ultimately it was found that my running style was actually part of what made me so successful. It's difficult to change an athlete's running style, so unless it's creating a negative barrier, it's best to let it go. Transcript: "I see him. So when I was being recruited, were coaches keen on my running Style. No, absolutely. Not every single coach. That recruited me out of high school told me, I would have to change my running style. If I ever wanted to be world class. I reach my full potential with the exception of one coach. Claude heart at Baylor University, which is where I decided to go. I can't say that I decided to go there because he didn't ask me that question. It was for me. The other reasons but it's ironic that he never asked me that question and never changed my running style. And ultimately, he told everyone later that he didn't change my running style and didn't feel it needed to be changed because I wasn't doing anything. That was limiting me. It wasn't a deterrent to me running fast, and he recognized that he also did recognize. Yes that it was different than everyone else's and I think it's a great lesson for coaches, that you don't just change and athletes running style, or you don't just Out, the idea that everyone who's successful did it this way? So that means everyone else has to do it this way. And then we ultimately found that when we had some actual studies done in conjunction with you as a committee, actually looking at my style and actually studying it and and and getting the data back that that it was, one of the things that actually made me so fast, especially over 400 meters because of the amount of force, I was able to put into the ground. Um, the amount of downforce that I create into the ground with significantly more than the average Sprinter, to a point where the US Olympic Committee had developed a model for the perfect Sprinter and they overlaid my form over the model and and I was faster and ultimately, I became the model. So that's not to say that anyone can go out and just do what I did because it's very difficult to change an athlete's running style. It's very difficult for an athlete to run in the style that they automatically run in. So now you've got to try to change. Change the running style. It's very difficult to do. So, I don't recommend that for anyone. But what I do recommend is not just changing someone, because they're different, as long as there isn't something that's actually a deterrent to them. Or if it's not creating a negative barrier to their performance, then let it go."
I was very happy for Noah Lyles to break my American record, as the world record is now held by a Jamaican. I was especially happy for him to defend his world championship and be a great ambassador for the sport. Transcript: "So how do you feel about Noah Lyles breaking your American record? It's interesting, because when you've been the world record holder, typically all the other ones just really don't have that much significance. Additionally, in the past, the world record and the American record were the same thing because it's been held, in most cases, by an American. So when I was the American record holder, I was also the world record holder. So my focus was always on the world records, and both of those have already been broken by Usain Bolt and Wayde van Niekerk, the 200 and 400 meters. So yeah, I didn't really think about it, but I was very happy for Noah because I know it's important for him because right now the world record is held by a Jamaican. So the American record then takes on more significance. And Noah's a great athlete, so I was very, very, very happy for him. More importantly, I was really happy for him to defend his world championship, especially after last year's Olympics not being able to win the Olympics, which I know was disappointing for him. And he's a great athlete and a great ambassador for the sport, so super happy for him."
The number one mistake I see runners make is not understanding the importance of symmetry and proper technique. For sprinters, the biggest mistake is lack of focus on consistency. Transcript: "What's the number one mistake I see runners make? So assuming we're talking about not sprinters necessarily but sort of recreational runners. And it's just crazy, as I'm kind of out for a hike or driving down the road and I see people running, not understanding the importance of symmetry and proper clean technique. When you see someone and they've got their rhythm going but their rhythm is based on the one arm doing one thing and the other one doing something completely different, that is a recipe for injury, and it certainly isn't efficient. And these are people who in many cases are trying to increase their mileage and they're just making it much harder on themselves. So symmetry is extremely important. And wasted motion if you-- the more you can minimize the wasted motion, the more efficient you're going to run, the further you're going to be able to run, and the faster you're going to be able to cover that mileage. For sprinters, the number one mistake I see is not necessarily in terms of technique and that sort of thing but lack of a focus on consistency. So many sprinters and coaches as well are focused on trying to run faster when they haven't been able to get consistent at one level yet. So consistency is the biggest advantage any sprinter can have. You can run consistently at whatever speed you're able to run and whatever you've accomplished so far, get consistent with that, and then start to focus on trying to push the envelope and run faster times. But you want to try to get consistent at whatever level you're at first. That is a huge advantage, those athletes who can establish consistency are the ones that usually are able to carve out a very good consistent living for themselves in the sport, but also able to produce their best performances when it counts at championships."
No, I was never tempted to try the 100 meters because I would not have been able to run fast enough to become an Olympic champion. Transcript: "Was I ever tempted to try the 100 meters? So I ran the 100 meters a few times during my career but never took it seriously. You think about sprinting and track and field, it's really difficult to be world class in one event. I happened to be world class in two, the 200 meters and 400 meters. Which are two races that traditionally did not complement one another. So that was one of the things that made my career so unique. So adding a third event, the 100 meters, would have been probably out of the question. You just can't do it. No one's capable of doing that, and I certainly wasn't. I could have run faster in the 100 meters had I really focused on it, but I never would have been able to run fast enough to be an Olympic champion. And that's what I was focused on, so that's why I stuck to my events, the 200 meters and 400 meters."
I ran upright because it was my natural style, and it ended up being more efficient than anyone had known before. My coach and I used what we found to enhance my running style, as the more upright I was running, the more power and speed I was able to produce. Transcript: "So this is probably one of the questions I get most. It's about my running style and why I ran so upright. So it was my natural way of running. I ran that way since I was a kid. And other kids would make fun of me and say, you run funny. And I would say-- I would make fun of them back and say, you run slow, because I was always faster than them. And it was just the way that I ran. But ultimately, through some high speed film footage and data that we collect, that we found that my running style was actually much more efficient and much more beneficial to me than anyone had known before. My coach and I then just used what we found to really enhance my running style and take advantage of it. The real advantage of it is with the more upright I was running, the more I was able to produce more force into the ground, and force into the ground equals power and speed, which is critical for a sprinter."