Michael Johnson is widely regarded as one of the greatest sprinters of all time. In the 1990s, the four-time Olympic gold medallist dominated the 200m and 400m, going an incredible seven years undefeated in the latter.
Born in the Texan city of Dallas on 13 September 1967, Michael Duane Adalbert Adam Johnson was the youngest of five siblings. As a teenager he devoted himself to his studies, with athletics just a regular sideline. Aged 19, he enrolled at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. It was there, in April 1987, that he was spotted by Clyde Hart – the coach who would later take him to the pinnacle of world athletics – as he broke the university 200m record. By then he had already adopted his distinctive running style, characterised by an upright gait and short stride, that would later see him nicknamed “the Duck”.
The road to the top
After gaining a degree in accountancy, Johnson decided to focus full-time on athletics in 1990. Unusually, he excelled over both 200m and 400m, finishing the year at the top of the international rankings for both distances. It was a rare combination but one that would soon bring him glory. In 1991, in Tokyo, he was crowned world 200m champion, but then suffered a setback the following year when food poisoning denied him the chance of glory in the individual events at the Olympic Games in Barcelona. However, he was restored to fitness in time to help the US 4x400m relay team secure the victory that brought Johnson his first taste of Olympic gold.
Seven years unbeaten
Starting in 1993, Johnson embarked on an incredible sequence of 58 400m races in which he went undefeated, and he was soon being hailed as “Superman”. The pinnacle of his track career came on home soil, at the Atlanta Olympic Games in 1996. 83,000 spectators looked on as Johnson, resplendant in his golden running shoes, completed a remarkable 200m-400m double, an achievement never matched before or since in men’s athletics. His times were remarkable too: 19.32 seconds for the 200m – a world record that stood for 12 years until being broken by Usain Bolt – and 43.49 seconds for the 400m.
A decade of solid gold
On 26 August 1999 in Seville (SPA), Johnson set a new 400m world record of 43.18 seconds, which remains unbeaten to this day. In the space of a decade at the top, which culminated in a final Olympic gold in the 400m at Sydney 2000, he amassed a total of eight world and four Olympic titles (never once experiencing the taste of silver or bronze). He retired from competition in 2001 to pursue a successful career as a media pundit, while also managing the career of one of his successors, Jeremy Wariner, who won Olympic gold in the 400m at Athens 2004.