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Thursday, August 26, 1999 Published at 22:41 GMT 23:41 UK


Michael Johnson: Life in the fast lane

That man again: Next stop Sydney

Michael Johnson may have a reputation for being moody, but he remains one of the most highly paid track and field athletes - and the only man to have won both the 200 and 400 metres at the world championships and the Olympics.

Johnson, 31, entered the Seville 99 championships amid speculation that he was no longer prepared to compete against younger sprinters - despite the fact that he remains the only athlete to have gone under 44 seconds in the 400 and, even before smashing the record, was the fastest man this year.


[ image:  ]
Michael Johnson, dubbed "superman" by some, has chased the record for most of his career.

Johnson began his athletics career when coach Clyde Hart spoted him at Skyline High School in Dallas.

The young sprinter had already developed a stiff running style and Hart has admitted in interviews that while he expected great things from the athlete, he did not expect him to accomplish all that he has.

But the coach went on to see Johnson break the 200 metres world record at the 1996 Olympics when he ran 19.32 seconds in his famous gold shoes, for which he is reportedly paid something in the region of $12m.


[ image: Piston legs: Running style has brought criticism]
Piston legs: Running style has brought criticism
Johnson's running style sets his apart from other competitors in that it is rigid and upright with his legs appearing to move sharply like pistons.

But while this has been criticised in the past, his reputation on the track remains untouched.

Discounting the medals and records he already holds, Johnson has taken the US 200 metres title five times and the 400 metres crown three times.

Between 1990 and 1992 he was unbeaten in 32 200 metres races, a year later he ran the fastest 400 relay leg ever, clocking 42.93secs.

Roger Black, the British athlete who took silver in the 400 at the Atlanta Olympics has described anyone who believes that they can beat Johnson as an "idiot".

There are two races when Johnson is in the line-up, he said, and everyone else is battling for the silver.

'Grumpy' Johnson

Speculation persists that Johnson has a troubled relationship with other members of the US athletics team because of the price he reportedly demands for an appearance.


[ image:  ]
Britain's Mark Richardson, ranked second to Johnson in 1998, has described the champion as "grumpy".

He has also been criticised for recently allegedly swearing at young autograph hunters who unwittingly interrupted his warm-up.

"The meet promoters pay me a lot of money to go out there and run," Johnson said when asked about the incident. "I can't be perfect. I can't do everything for everyone."

Spate of injuries

Johnson's few defeats have been blamed on injury, including when he famously pulled up halfway through the 150 metre head-to-head against Donovan Bailey in Toronto in 1997.

Instead of establishing himself as the fastest man in world athletics, he limped off with a pulled hamstring.

The young athlete also suffered numerous injuries during college years; an earlier hamstring muscle put him out of most of the 1987 season despite having set a college record of 20.41 in the 200. He came back from injury to lower it further to 20.07 but then broke his leg.

Since Atlanta, Johnson has constantly turned to a physiotherapist to deal with a reported hip and pelvis imbalance which has forced him to miss several events.

However, despite looking forward to his 32nd birthday in September, he appears determined to attempt another 200-400 double at the Sydney 2000 Olympics before bowing out.

"Eventually (decline) happens to everyone," he said.

"The day I'm not running fast and it's not because of injuries, I'll be in retirement."





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