The best 200/400 meter sprinter in the history of the sport of track & field. Johnson’s progressions through the ranks of track and field were swift and stunning! A dual event world champion, the likes of which were never seen before, Johnson surpassed legends and surged to the top of record books of years gone by.
During the summer of 1990, his first year as a professional, Johnson won thirteen consecutive 200 meter races. Obtaining the six fastest 200m times recorded for the year, he secured the number one world ranking. He also defeated the world’s best 400m sprinters by running four sub 45 second races.
Johnson’s decision to run both the 200 and 400 meter sprints came mostly out of the training program developed by his coach, Clyde Hart, at Baylor. In an effort to enhance speed and strength, and to avoid leg injuries which hindered Johnson over the past year, Hart devised a simple strategy for the spring of 1990: Johnson was to mostly run relays. “Running both events fit perfectly with our program,” noted Hart. “We feel that strength is synonymous with speed-if you’re strong, then you can run fast.” Adds Johnson, “The sprint relays gave me the speed-work I needed, and the relay 400’s gave me the strength work. I got in a good base while working on my speed at the same time.” The program’s results were nothing short of spectacular.
Johnson went on to dominate the international track scene, after establishing himself in the United States. His first major international breakthrough came in Edinburgh, Scotland in July, 1990 where he raced in a field that included, defending Olympic Champion, Joe DeLoach. On a chilly 55 degree night, Johnson destroyed what he called, “the greatest field I had ever run against,” posting a personal best of 19.85.
He also planned to run, “some 400’s later in the season, just to break up the monotony of running 200 after 200.” What began largely as a training routine, and a diversion from boredom, turned into a dominating specialty. He ran four sub 45 second races at 400 meters, defeating the world’s best, including current world record-holder, Butch Reynolds. Though Johnson excelled at both distances, he decided to concentrate on the 200m at the 1991 World Championships where he produced the most convincing 200m win in a major international competition since Jesse Owens at the 1936 Olympics.
Johnson had the greatest consecutive seasons of any sprinter in history in 1990 and 1991. He also became the first athlete ever to be ranked No. 1 in the world in both the 200 and 400 meters. Equally impressive, he became the only sprinter in history to run sub 20.00 for 200m and sub 44.00 for 400m during a career, and in the same competition. All of these achievements earned him the popular title of “World’s Fastest Human”.
In the 1992 Olympic Trials, Johnson won the 200m with a blazing time of 19.79 seconds, breaking Carl Lewis’s 19.84 meet record held since 1984. In the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, he was plagued with food poisoning, but competed nonetheless as a member of the 4x400m relay team that set a new Olympic record and brought home the Gold medal.
Since Johnson had primarily been recognized as a 200 meter sprinter and had not contested the 400 meters at a major championship, the talk of the 1993 USA Track and Field Championships was whether he could last the rounds, gain a top three finish, and qualify for the World Championships. With the World Record Holder, Butch Reynolds, and 1992 Olympic Champion, Quincy Watts, in the race, his task appeared formidable. However, he took no mercy on the field and won the race in a personal record time of 43.74, the fastest 400 meters ever run on American soil.
Johnson entered the 1993 World Championships in Stuttgart as the favorite and emerged as a champion, winning the 400m in a Championship Record time of 43.65, and anchored the World Record setting American 4x400 relay in 42.94, history’s first sub 43.00 relay leg.
Throughout 1994, Johnson won all of his 400m races and repeated a Gold Medal performance at the Goodwill Games in St. Petersburg, Russia in July. In the fall of 1994 he was awarded the prestigious Jesse Owens Award along with being ranked #1 in the World for the third time in his career in both the 200m and 400m. He continued his incredible winning streak as he blazed through the 1995 Indoor season with his 40th win in a row, in the 400m. He broke his previous World Record – only three weeks old – with a time of 44.63.
At the 1995 US National Championships in Sacramento, California, Johnson became the first athlete since 1899, to win both the 200m and 400m US National Champion titles! During the World Championships in Göteborg, Sweden, he performed another historic feat – he ran nine races over nine days and left Sweden as the first man ever to attain World Championship titles at both 200m and 400m in the same championship.
1996 was the year for Johnson’s unprecedented Olympic double record breaking victories in both the 200 and 400 meters in Atlanta. He began his quest to win two gold medals at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta in top form; seeking redemption for the bout with food poisoning that killed his individual medal chances in 1992. At the U.S. Olympic Trials in June, he smashed the seventeen-year-old 200m World Record with a time of 19.66. At the Olympic Games, he went on to break his own 200m World Record with a time of 19.32, only three days after winning the 400m in an Olympic-record 43.49.
Either of Johnson’s victories in Atlanta would have stood alone as a significant accomplishment in Olympic history. That one athlete was able to win both events so convincingly in a span of just four days is purely stunning (Olympian Jan. /Feb. 1997). “I’ve always wanted to bring the two events together in a way that nobody else had ever done,” said Johnson, “this sums up what my career is about.”
In 1998, Johnson was part of the World Record breaking 4 x 400m relay at the Goodwill Games in New York during which he also ran the fastest 400m of the year (43.76). He enjoyed continued success in 1999 when he convincingly broke the 11 year old World Record in the 400m at the World Track & Field Championships in Sevilla, Spain. With a remarkable time of 43.18, he offered fans an exciting glimpse of what to expect at the 2000 Summer Olympics.
At the 2000 Olympic Games, Johnson again dazzled the world under the stadium lights in Sydney when he became the first sprinter in history to win consecutive Olympic Gold Medals in the 400m. To top off his career total eighteen gold medals, Johnson earned grand number 19 in the 4x400m relay. Johnson chose to end his career after his double Olympic gold medal effort at the 2000 Olympic Games, finishing his career with an impressive total of 19 championship gold medals, 0 bronze, and 0 silver.
Johnson has not been distracted by the opportunities his immense talent has offered him. He has been an exceptional example of how extreme pressure can make one more focused on realizing one’s own true potential. He has been a role model for children, aspiring athletes, and professionals everywhere; and his impact on the world of sport is truly remarkable. Since his retirement from sports, Johnson has gone on to establish himself as a leading corporate motivational speaker, having worked with such companies as Microsoft, Sony, UBS Bank, Bank of Scotland, Lucent Technologies, and Proctor and Gamble. He has also found success as a television commentator and personality, and in 2002, was awarded the Television Pundit of the Year Award by the UK’s Royal Television Society.
Johnson has also taken the lessons he learned to be successful during his athletic career and applied those to his various business ventures, including a sports consulting company with clients ranging from the Chinese Athletic Association to some of the most successful NFL football players. His sports management company represents some of the top track and field athletes in the world, including Johnson’s successor at 400 meters, 2004 Olympic and 2005 World Champion, Jeremy Wariner. Johnson’s other business adventures include various real estate development projects and a natural energy snack food and beverage company based in the US. Johnson is also a member and serves on the board of the Laureus World Sports Academy, a group of 40 legends of sport from around the world, whose Sport For Good Foundation seeks to bring about social change through the use of sport for children affected by social and political hardships, such as: disease, war, poverty, and conflict.
Johnson currently lives in San Francisco, California with his young son Sebastian Johnson.
Michael Johnson travels from United States
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University of Queensland
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