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.
Initially I thought it was a bit weird but ultimately it worked out well. It created an opportunity for athletes to have their medal moment in front of their home crowd, taking pictures with the fans and having those memories. Transcript: "What did you think of the immediate medals that were handed out at World Athletic Championships in Eugene? Sorry, a little bit late on this one. I've been away for a while. I had taken some time off after the Summer World Championships and Commonwealth Games. But anyway, initially, I thought it was a bit weird. But I think ultimately, it really worked out well. And World Athletics is to be applauded. Athletes still got a chance to get on the podium and have their moment with their anthem. But a lot of times, an athlete, say for example, at the end of the night after their race, everyone leaves the stadium. And they never get a chance to really have their medal moment in front of their home crowd or in front of the people that came to watch them race. And so, it created a real cool moment for them to be able to run around the stadium, take pictures with the fans, with the medal around their neck, and have those memories. So I thought it was great idea."
I would like to answer more questions about motivation and how to achieve success in any endeavor. I have extensive experience in this field, and I'd like to share what I've learned with others. Transcript: "What topics would you like to answer more questions about? Motivation and how you achieve success in any pursuit. Things that get into the mindset of performance and success, quite frankly, in any endeavor. I've always been intrigued by that. I have spent a lot of time providing that sort of inspiration and insight into those types of behaviors to corporations and individuals for many years. And I really enjoy answering those types of questions where I can help others to understand what it takes to be your best, to win, to succeed, because I think that there's a lot of-- just like in the medical community, where there's a lot of hacks and a lot of misinformation out there, the same applies with motivation. There's a lot of things out there that are not quite true, and a lot of information out there by people who haven't really studied the field like I have and certainly haven't actually done it like I've been able to do. And not only as an athlete but as an entrepreneur, as a television commentator as well. I've been able to have success that wasn't easy, but I was able to do it, and I'd like to be able to share that information with others."
Performance numbers are not the only way to judge an athlete's greatness, as fans often care more about the competition between athletes and who wins or loses. Transcript: "Are performance numbers the only way to judge an athlete's greatness? No. I mean, what people get into, and what most people first think about with sports is not numbers but competition. Track and field as an example. And in the sport of track and field, the objective is to win the race, or win the competition, to run faster, and get to the finish line before everyone else, or to throw further than everyone else, or jump higher or further than everyone else, or to score more points, say, in a heptathlon. That is what people tune in to see. But we are robbing them of that excitement, and that narrative, and that story by talking more about records and numbers and whether or not an athlete is going to run faster this week than they've run all season, and record a season's best, or a personal best, or a national record, or even a world record, and talking about the distances and times, which really don't mean anything to the fans. So the better way to judge an athlete's greatness, and the easier way and what fans look for is that athlete compared to the other athletes in the competition and focus on the competition, and a winner and losers-- gold medalist, silver medalist, bronze medalist, and also-rans. That is what people tune in to see."
Yes, I looked to great sprinters from the past for inspiration. I studied their techniques and used that knowledge to push the boundaries and create my own history. Transcript: "Did you look to great sprinters from the past for inspiration? Absolutely. Early on in my career, I wanted to study all of the sprinters of the past to see who were the greats, how they train, how they competed. And that's how I came across people like, of course, Jesse Owens who became a hero of mine and Tommie Smith, John Carlos, Lee Evans from the 68 Olympics and that era. And then, of course, people like Calvin Smith who was in the era right before me and whose career coincided with mine at the beginning of my career and the end of his. So yeah, absolutely. But ultimately, once I realized that I had the potential to break world records and make history and do things that no one, no sprinter had ever done before me, then I started to focus less on what they had done and how they had trained and how I needed to train to push the boundaries and make my own history and become that athlete that other future sprinters would look to for inspiration."
No, the media focus in track and field has not always been on the numbers rather than the narratives. When there were healthy rivalries, the focus was on head-to-head competition, with narratives and build up around each athlete. Nowadays, the focus is more on world records, national records, personal records, and season's bests, which can make it difficult to get fans excited. Transcript: "Has the media focus in track and field always been on the numbers rather than the narratives? It's a good question. And one that I've been talking about a lot lately, because I think that there's too much focus on world records, and national records, and personal records, and seasons best, rather than the head-to-head competition. And the answer is no. The focus hasn't always been on the numbers, when there were good, healthy, rivalries in head-to-head competition. Because there wasn't so many competitions where athletes were disincentivized, as they are now, from competing against one another. There were great rivalries. And the real focus and the narrative was-- There are eight people in this race. Only one is going to win. And the buildup to those races at the starting line by the media, was OK. These four or five of the eight have the best chance, maybe even an equal chance to win. But only one can win. They all want to win. This is the reason why they each have a chance to win. This one is the Olympic defending champion. This one is the world record holder. This one has the fastest time in the world. This one has a 3-0 record against this one. Those sorts of things, which gets fans really excited and they sort of choose their favorite. And then ultimately, the gun goes off, and the race happens, and one of them is the winner. And that is a story from start to finish with a narrative and a payoff, as opposed to-- This athlete is potentially going to break a world record. You should tune in and watch. And then, since records are so rare, it doesn't happen. And now, that fan is disappointed because they tuned in to see a record. Or there's lots of talk by the commentators about-- This was a 70 meter throw by, or whatever. And that 70 foot throw, and no one knows what that means. No one really understands what that means, or how impressive that is, unless you are familiar with the sport and you are deep into these events to understand what a 8.65-- 8 meters, 65 long jump-- how impressive that is. But that number doesn't really mean anything to anyone. So it's a-- it's a lost opportunity."