- 25 Sep 2000
- Sydney 2000
Athletics - Michael Johnson (USA)
How to measure an athlete’s greatness? Well it is not just about their results and medals, but also about their aura, reputation and the way they carry themselves. The true greats have something extraordinary about them that electrifies a crowd and can intimidate opponents. So it was with Michael Johnson.
Four years earlier, the American sprinter had won gold in both 200m and 400m, but in Australia he decided to concentrate solely on the one-lap race. Johnson had won the last four world championship titles over 400m, and in 1999 he finally broke the 11-year-old world record with a run of 43.18 seconds.
To say he was the favourite to take gold in Sydney would be a massive understatement. To most fans, it was unthinkable that he could fail.
That sort of pressure can affect athletes negatively, but Johnson was famous for his resolve, determination and his ability to stay focused when the pressure was at its peak. He wasn't just an astonishing runner, he was also a great tactician and a a real thinker.
He breezed through the first round, and then quarter-final with such ease that it looked as if he had barely broken sweat.
His fellow American Alvin Harrison set the fastest time in each round, to establish himself as Johnson's closest rival. Indeed, the semi-final saw Harrison beating Johnson to the line, increasing the sense that the reigning champion may have a proper rival to contend with. Was there a chink in his armour?
In the final, Johnson made a slow start and was last out of the blocks. He recovered well enough to catch the leaders as they entered the back straight, but with 100m to go the race looked in the balance. Then came Johnson's unmatchable finish. He simply burst away from the pack, going ahead by a metre, then two, and then more.
Johnson crossed the line some four metres, and more than half a second, ahead of Harrison in second. At the age of 33, he had become the first man to win the 400m title twice and cemented his place among the greats of athletics, and of the Olympic Games.