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.
I was the number one ranked 200 Meter Sprinter in the world heading into the 1992 Olympics, but unfortunately got food poisoning right before the competition that prevented me from performing to my full potential. Despite this, I still managed to win a gold medal with the 4 x 400 Meter Relay team. Transcript: "So, what's the story behind my 1992 food poisoning? The short answer is, is it was the biggest disappointment of my entire career. It was my first Olympic games. I was ranked number one in the world, defending world champion, and the overwhelming favorite to win the 200 Meters at that Olympic games. Unfortunately, I did get food poisoning just before the game started. It wrecked the remaining part of my preparation. And I wasn't really sharp when I started the 200 Meters, and just didn't have any energy, just didn't have anything. I did go ahead and run on the four by 400 Meter Relay and we won the gold medal. At the time, it was no consolation for me because I wasn't there to be a relay member, I was there as a 200 Meter Sprinter. But later, I learned to really cherish that gold medal, and I still do."
The limits for 200 meters and 400 meters are unknown as progression in these events is slow and records are broken infrequently. Winning races is the main goal in track and field, with record-breaking being secondary. Transcript: "Where do I see the limits of the 200 meters and 400 meters and what is humanly possible in those events? I don't think we're close. But you have to remember, with track and field events, sprints and distance events as well, that the improvements on the records are made in tens and hundreds of seconds as opposed to whole seconds. And they happen very infrequently. Every generation of athletes are chasing the records of the previous generation. And you also have to remember that the objective of this sport is not to break records. It's to win races. So when you break a record, that is actually secondary in most cases. You break a record en route to trying to win a race. So the progress is relatively slow when you look at it in the grand scheme of things. But I don't think we're close. Now, the million question is, well, what are the limits in terms of times? No one knows because, again, we're-- most of the time, the records, when they're broken, are based on the idea that we're focused on what was already done in the past as opposed to really being 100% focused on, OK, what's possible in the future?"
The gold shoes were a project two years in the making with Nike. The focus was on making them lightweight and stable, as well as comfortable to run curves quickly. The color was decided when the prototype was made to look like a mirror, and the athlete asked if it could be made in gold. The shoes are remembered by everyone for their color. Transcript: "Can you tell me the story behind the gold shoes? The gold shoes were a project that I worked on for two years with Nike to make this very lightweight-- there it is. Lightweight shoe. I wanted my shoe to be light. I wanted my footwear to-- I want it to fit like a glove, but I wanted it to be-- what was most important, I explained to them-- I wanted it to be light. And I wanted it to be very stable. And there was a certain thing that I wanted to feel around the curve, especially in running the 200 meters. One of the advantages for me, as a 200 meter runner, was my ability to run the curve really fast. And there was certain footwear that wouldn't allow me to be as fast as I felt like I needed to, and I felt like it was restricting me. So those were the things that I said to my shoe designer, Tobie Hatfield at Nike. And so we worked on it for two years and used some very innovative techniques and materials even that had never been used before in footwear. And then ultimately, the color was just kind of a-- it just happened. The final prototype, when it was brought to me, it looked like a mirror. And it was really cool, and I liked it a lot. And my coach said, I think it's going to just look like a silver shoe from the stands or on TV. And as soon as he said that, I turned to my designer, and I said, can you make that in gold? And he said, I think we can. And I think he was pretty shocked. But yeah, so we worked on this for two years-- all of this technology, all of this innovation that ultimately found itself into a lot of the other Nike footwear products outside of just track and field and running. But what everybody remembers is the color."
I have never stayed in the Olympic village, but I have visited there. It is a great atmosphere and fun for athletes who stay there for a few weeks. It can be crazy, so it may not be the best place for focus. Transcript: "What's the Olympic village like? I don't know really that much, I know a little bit. My three Olympics I didn't stay in the Olympic village, which is always surprising to people. So as a professional athlete, I was very fortunate in the sport to do really well. And there's a spectrum with regard to track and field athletes. Some are truly professionals and some are more amateur, so they're supported by their federation or whatever, they're not really at the professional level. That when you think of professional athletes who financially are compensated very well for what they do. I was fortunate to be one of those on that end of the spectrum. So when I was competing as a professional in all of the races during the season, I'm always staying at a very nice hotel where I can be comfortable, where I can have my team with me, my manager, my massage therapist, my physio, all of those people with me. We're all in our own little camp and creating the environment that allows me to produce the best performances that I can. So when you get to the Olympics, it would be very difficult, and I probably wouldn't be able to produce the same performances if all of a sudden now have to change my whole format, I'm away from my team. They're staying somewhere else because they can't stay in the village with me. Yeah, so it's a very different situation. So I didn't ever stay in the village. I hear it's a lot of fun [LAUGHTER] And it's great, it's a great atmosphere. I did go there in 1992. My first Olympics I went to the village and visited some friends of mine. And yeah, it was a great atmosphere, it was a lot of fun. And you can see how athletes for a few weeks stay in there, just the camaraderie and meeting people from different backgrounds and different cultures. And I got to do that every day in my sport. Because fortunately as a track and field athlete, we compete all around the world with athletes from all around the world, which is fantastic. But yeah, I hear the village is a lot of fun and crazy a little bit too. Not sure it's the best place for focus. But yeah, I didn't stay there."
I am following the competitive rivalries and races in track and field, like the men's and women's 400-meter hurdles, where world records have been broken, and the men's 100 meters, where Marcell Jacobs has emerged as the Olympic champion. It will be interesting to see if he can defend his title this year. Transcript: "What storylines, milestones, or narratives are you following right now in track and field? So with the World Championships this year, this being a World Championship year, there's some great stories out there. What I'm looking at is some of the rivalries that are forming, some of the really competitive races, like the men's and women's 400-meter hurdles where we're seeing world records broken over the last couple of years, and very, very competitive. You take the men's 400-meters with Karsten Worholm, and Rai Benjamin, and dos Santos from Brazil. That's a really competitive race. Same thing in the women's 400-meter hurdles with Dalilah Muhammad and Sydney McLaughlin, who have traded back the world record a few times and won the last three championships. Those two have taken all the gold medals over the last four years of championships. And then now you have the young German, Femke Bol or Netherlands-- from the Netherlands. But then in the sprints, you've got some great athletes there as well, some rivalries starting to form with Noah Lyles, who's very well known and very sort of outspoken and flamboyant in the sport, great entertainer and a great athlete. But now, young Erriyon Knighton, an 18-year-old, is challenging and a rivalry forming there, which is great. 100 meters is always great. So I'm looking at some of those athletes, as well, like men's 100 meters champion Marcell Jacobs from Italy, which surprised everyone last year. Can he continue to win and medal, even a win at the at the highest level? He did not do that prior to Tokyo last year. And now, he's the Olympic champion. So he'll need to defend. So he's got a target on his back, and it will be interesting to see if he's able to defend and continue and show everyone that that wasn't a fluke. That's a great storyline to follow. So there's a lot of that up and down the sport throughout the events. And I think it's a really sort of in a sweet spot. Really good time for the sport in terms of actual competitive rivalries, which I think is something that this sport really needs to focus on. When we had Usain Bolt in the sport and he was dominating, everyone just wanted to watch him run. But no one thought he was going to-- there wasn't that anticipation of, who's going to win the 100 meters? We knew who was going to win the 100 meters. It was going to be Usain Bolt. That was fantastic. It was great to watch him. But I think that the sport is really about competition, so it's great to see now that we have some very competitive races."
My greatest achievements on the track are my consistency and longevity, winning four Olympic gold medals and eight world championship gold medals. Off the track, it is overcoming a stroke and making a full recovery. Transcript: "What is your greatest achievement on and off the track? So I'll give you on the track and off the track. I think that the thing that I'm most proud of and I feel is my greatest achievement on the track is my consistency and longevity. I went four Olympic-- won four Olympic gold medals, eight world championship gold medals, no silver medals, no bronze medals. I'm very proud of that, and that's very difficult to do to show up at every major championship, deliver your best performance and come home with a gold medal. So I'm very proud of that, and I think that rather than singling out any one of those, what I'm most proud of and I think my greatest achievement is the entire collection of work. Off the track, I think overcoming a stroke. That was tough. It was really hard, almost four years ago now having suffered a stroke and being unable to walk, unable to stand, and told that I may be able to make a full recovery, I may not, and I just needed to get-- my doctors told me, hey, you just need to give it everything you have and we'll see what happens. And they were very encouraging, but I think it was just the drive that I have, the things that I learned as an athlete when I was able to apply that mindset and what I learned as an athlete to my recovery. I was able to recover, make a full recovery, and relatively quickly. And I think it was because of my experience as an athlete. So those are probably my two greatest accomplishments, and certainly the latter one, recovering from a stroke, was my most important accomplishment."