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 admire Jesse Owens because of his incredible accomplishments in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, where he won four gold medals in the 100-meters, 200-meters long jump and 4 by 100-meter relay in front of Hitler, and for his amazing achievement of breaking four world records in one day as a college athlete. Transcript: "Who is the person you admire, alive or dead, and why? There are few. But as an athlete, I'll stay with that. Jesse Owens was-- is a hero of mine-- in my opinion, still the greatest sprinter, greatest track and field athlete that has ever lived. I think everyone knows his four Olympic gold medals in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin-- in the 100-meters, 200-meters long jump and 4 by 100-meter relay in front of Hitler, and sort of defying Hitler's statement that this was going to demonstrate Aryan supremacy. And Jesse Owens came and spoiled the party. So everyone knows that story. But what I think a lot of people don't know about Jesse Owens's greatness is just as a college athlete, he broke four world records in one single day, in one competition. That's just mind boggling. I broke two world records over my career. And not including the 4 by 400-meter relay as well, but just personal individual records, I broke two. And it took me 10 years to do that, to break both of those world records. So four world records in one day is just phenomenal. But an amazing athlete and an amazing person as well, so Jesse Owens is one of the people that I admire most."
As a parent, I have adopted the same approach as an athlete to pursue excellence. I seek knowledge to be a better parent, and constantly self-assess. I rely on advice from friends and others to help me improve and understand my own blind spots. Transcript: "How has my pursuit of greatness in sport influenced my approach to parenting? I think you know greatness is something that I pursued excellence. I wanted to be the best athlete that I could possibly be. And I applied a lot of lessons that I learned throughout my career to be the best athlete that I could be as I continued in my career. I've done the same thing as a parent trying to be the best parent I could be. So not necessarily trying to be great. I don't know that anyone can really get there as a parent. It's full of all sorts of twists and turns. And at the end of the day, it's not about you whereas my athletic career was absolutely about me. But as a parent, it's about my child. And so I was just trying throughout raising my son to be the best that I could be. And so I did the same thing that I did in my athletic career, applying the things that I was learning along the way and pursuing knowledge to be a better parent, and constantly self assessing myself as a parent just as I did as an athlete. Seeking advice from others just like I did as an athlete. Looking to my coach for that expertise and to help me be a better athlete. Seeing what I can see. Understanding what my blind spots were. So I relied on friends and others for that as a parent as well. So as a parent, not necessarily pursuing greatness like I did as an athlete. But certainly, pursuing excellence as a parent."
My diet didn't change much after retirement, but my exercise changed dramatically. I now do a variety of activities like strength training, hiking, and running to stay in shape and to be able to continue to enjoy an active lifestyle as I get older. Transcript: "How did your diet and exercise changed after retirement? So my diet didn't change too much. I was always very balanced in terms of my diet. For the most part eating healthy but also enjoying the things that I do enjoy. I think contrary to popular belief, as athletes, to have a healthy diet or even as an individual, it doesn't mean that you can't eat good and you can't have things that you enjoy. It's all about the balance of those things. So I did that when I was competing, and I did that afterwards and still do. In terms of exercise, that changed dramatically. As a sprinter, running really fast, 200, 300, 400, 100 meters sprint repeats really, really fast, and that thing, that's not something that you do for a recreation or to stay in shape. That's for a very specific reason. You do that only if you're running races. So my exercise changed dramatically and has changed over the years where I do a variety of different things, strength training, hiking, running from time to time. I don't run as much as I used to, but when I was a sprinter, I never went out for miles. Go for 3 or 4 miles, I never did that. I thought it was silly actually. But then I got into it right after I retired and started going out. It's good for my mind to just go out for a run and be outside. Now I hike more than I actually run, but I do a lot of strength training, functional strength training. It's important I think to do the things that are specific to what your goals are. My goal is just to be healthy and as I get older, to continue to be able to have a healthy and active lifestyle that I enjoy, doing the things that I enjoy. And so I need to stay in shape to be able to do those things."
I don't run anymore, but I do some strength training in the gym three days a week and mix in some cardio one or two more days a week. I also enjoy hiking, biking, cycling, and paddleboarding. Transcript: "Do you still run today? If so, what kind of workouts do you enjoy? I don't do anything close to anything that even resembles what I did when I was an athlete. I mean, my days as a as a sprinter was filled with on-the-track, you know, repeat sprints, you know? And then in the in the gym for weight sessions, strength training sessions, you know, four days a week, on the track five days if not six days a week doing very fast repeat sprint repetitions, working on technique, doing speedwork. No one would do that today for fun or even to try to stay in shape. It's just too much. So I used to run. I don't run anymore. Just go out for actual, you know, three or four mile runs a couple of times a week. I try to keep my workouts sort of varied these days, so I spend some time in the gym a few days a week. I hike a lot. I love hiking. I love being outside. Biking, cycling-- I do that as well. Paddleboarding from time to time. So I try to try to it keep it mixed up. But my sort of go-to though, I'm in the gym just doing some functional strength training probably at least three days a week and then mix in some cardio, you know, one or two more days a week."
Track and field is a complex sport with many different events, making it difficult to promote and gain a following. Professional sports like tennis and golf have a well-defined criteria that fans understand, while track and field does not. To become more successful, the sport needs to be cleaned up and made more presentable from a television standpoint so that fans can better understand it. Transcript: "What separates track and field today from more successful professional leagues? I think to have a fair comparison, you would want to compare track and field, which is an individual sport, to sports like tennis and golf, as opposed to sports like football or baseball or basketball, which are team sports. And those sports are successful because it's a lot easier to promote those teams and get a following. But I think that our sport, one of the problems is that it has one foot in professionalism, one foot still in Olympic amateurism, whereas tennis, golf, those types of individual sports, are truly professional sports and have a very defined sort of criteria that people understand, that fans understand, that the casual fan, even, understands in terms of what is a professional golfer or what is a professional tennis player. In track and field, it's not quite defined, and it's very convoluted. It's very difficult. A tennis player is a tennis player. Everybody knows what they do. They play tennis. They hit a ball across a net, try to score points on the opponent. Same thing with golf. Everybody understands what they do. They play golf. They try to get the ball in the hole and try to get a score that's as low as possible. In track and field, an athlete may be a sprinter trying to run as fast as they can and may be a distance runner trying to run a long distance, and it's based on endurance, as fast as they can. It may be a high jumper trying to jump as high as they can. It may be a long jumper trying to jump as long as they can. It may be a discus thrower trying to throw a flat, heavy thing as far as they can or a shot putter trying to throw a round, heavy thing as far as they can. It's a lot. I haven't even gotten into pole vault, high jump, triple jump, long jump. It's too many different things. So it's very, very difficult to promote that sport. Because you're speaking to a lot of different people with a lot of different interests. So there's a lot that makes it different and a lot of things that need to be done to clean it up and make it a little bit more innovative and presentable from a television standpoint and so that fans truly understand it."
Track and field needs to become more concise and easier to understand to attract a younger demographic. It should focus on creating a narrative instead of relying on times and distances that the average person doesn't really understand. Transcript: "How can track and field attract a younger demographic? That's something that absolutely needs to happen. The demographic of fans for track and field continues to get older and smaller. It doesn't grow as much as it used to or as much as it should. It's a very complex answer to that question. I think that the sport is a very complex sport with many different skills and events, probably more so than any other sport with the diversity of athletes and skills that it takes to participate in the types of events across the sport. So I think that it takes-- it's going to take a lot of thinking and creativity to figure out how to take that diversity of the sport of track and field, and the skills, and athletes to take part in it, and figure out how to package that in a way that is much more concise and much easier for people to understand. And focus more on a narrative, as opposed to times and distances that the average human being doesn't really understand."