Michael Duane Johnson (born September 13, 1967) is a retired Americansprinter. He won four Olympic gold medals and eight World Championships gold medals. Johnson currently holds the world and Olympic records in the 400 m. He formerly held the world and Olympic record in the 200 m, and the world record in the indoor 400 m. He also currently holds the world's best time at the 300 m. His 200 m time of 19.32 at the 1996 Summer Olympics stood as the record for over 12 years. Johnson is generally considered one of the greatest and most consistent sprinters in the history of track and field.
Johnson's stiff upright running stance and very short steps defied the conventional wisdom that a high knee lift was essential for maximum speed. As of 2012, Johnson holds 13 of the top 100 times for the 200 meters and 27 of the top 100 times for the 400 meters. Of those, he holds 14 of the top 25 times for the 400 meters. He broke 44 seconds for the 400 metres twenty-two times, more than twice as many times as any other athlete.
Johnson was born and raised in Dallas, Texas as the youngest of five children; his parents were a truck driver and a schoolteacher. He began running competitively at age 10, and attended Skyline High School and Baylor University. At Baylor, Johnson was coached by Clyde Hart, and won several NCAA titles in both indoor and outdoor sprints and relays. Among his early collegiate feats, Johnson broke the school record for the 200 m in his very first race with a time of 20.41, and in 4 x 400 m relays he clocked a leg at 43.5.
He prepared for the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, but developed a stress fracture of his left fibula before the U.S. Olympic trials began. He did not qualify in the 400 m and he withdrew from the 200 m. In 1989, he placed 2nd in the 400 at the USA Indoor Championship, while at the NCAA Outdoor Championship he led off runner-up Baylor in the 4 x 400 with a time of 43.8 and won the 200 in 20.59. Johnson hit his stride in his senior season, winning three of the four major 200 m events on the schedule, taking the 400 m at the USA Indoors Championship, and anchoring several winning relay teams. Johnson graduated from Baylor in 1990 with a bachelor's degree in business, with the number one world ranking in both the 200 m and the 400 m.
Two weeks before the 1992 Summer Olympics began, Johnson and his agent both contracted food poisoning at a restaurant in Spain. Johnson lost both weight and strength. He was the favorite to win the 200 m going into the Olympics, but he could do no better than sixth in his semifinal heat, and failed to reach the 200 m final. Nevertheless, he was able to race as a member of the 4 x 400 m relay team, which won a gold medal and set a new world record time of 2:55.74. Johnson ran his leg in a time of 44.73.
In 1996, Johnson ran 19.66 seconds in the 200 m at the U.S. Olympic Trials, breaking Pietro Mennea's record of 19.72 seconds, which had stood for nearly 17 years. With that performance he qualified to run at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta and prepared to attempt to win both the 200 meters and 400 meters events, a feat never before achieved by a male athlete. (Two women have won Olympic gold medals in both races in the same year: Valerie Brisco-Hooks in the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, and Marie-José Pérec, in the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.)
Johnson entered the Olympic finals donning a custom-designed pair of golden-colored Nike racing spikes made with Zytel, causing him to be nicknamed "The Man With the Golden Shoes." Sources differ on the exact weight of these shoes; the manufacturer of the spikes claims they weighed 3 ounces (85 g) each, while other sources state each shoe weighed about 94 grams (3.3 oz). The left shoe was a US size 10.5 while the right shoe was a US size 11, to account for Johnson's shorter left foot.
After the 1996 season ended, Johnson received the James E. Sullivan Award as the top amateur athlete in any sport in the United States, and was named ABC's Wide World of Sports Athlete of the Year. In August, HarperCollins published his biographical/motivational book, Slaying the Dragon: How to Turn Your Small Steps to Great Feats.
Johnson's clocking of 19.32s (10.35 m/s) en route to breaking the 200 metre world record at the 1996 Olympics led some in the United States to consider him the fastest man in the world. In 1997 Johnson began appearing in Nike television advertisements in which he was billed as "World's fastest man" as a result of his 200 m world record. This was despite the fact that the 100 metres world record holder, at the time Donovan Bailey (Canada), was typically given that unofficial title.
In a much hyped competition in June 1997, he raced against Bailey in a 150-metre (164 yd) race at the SkyDome in Toronto. The event was unsanctioned, and its unique course consisted of 75 metres of curved track and a 75-meter straight. The race was billed as a competition for the title of "World's Fastest Man." However, Johnson failed to live up to expectations when he pulled up around the 100 meter mark after Bailey was already ahead in the race and pulling away, ostensibly having injured his hamstring. Bailey won the race and the $1.5 million prize that came with the victory, Johnson received $500,000.
After recovering from the injury, Johnson was able to compete for his third 400 m world title. The IAAF invented a new policy of giving a "bye" to the defending champions essentially to allow Johnson to compete in the IAAF World Championships that year, because Johnson was unable to qualify the conventional method (by competing in the USA Outdoor Track and Field Championships) due to his injury from the race with Bailey. More than a month after the U.S. Championships, Johnson had recovered from his injury and won the 400 metres at the 1997 World Championships in Athens.
At the 1998 Goodwill Games in New York, Johnson anchored the U.S. 4 x 400 m relay team with Jerome Young, Antonio Pettigrew, and Tyree Washington to a win and set a world record of 2:54.20. Pettigrew has since admitted doping from 1997, while Young was caught doping in 1999. The world record was annulled by the IAAF in August 2008, and reverted to the time of 2:54:29 Johnson helped set in the 1993 World Championships.
Johnson was plagued by injury in 1999, and his following season was troubled with two injury scares that limited him to just four 400 m races before the 1999 World Championships in Seville. Were it not for the IAAF policy established two years earlier for Johnson, that allowed automatic entry to defending champions, he could not have raced in Seville since he failed to compete in the U.S. trials due to his injury. He recovered and won his fourth 400 meter world title with a new world record time of 43.18 seconds, which still remains unbeaten.
After qualifying for the 2000 Summer Olympics in the 400 m at the U.S. Olympic Trials, Johnson injured himself in the 200 m final while racing in a highly anticipated matchup against the 100 m and 200 m world champion, Maurice Greene. The injury prevented a defense of his 200 m Olympic title. Johnson ended his career at the Sydney Olympics by winning gold medal in the 400 m, which brought his total number of Olympic gold medals to four. By winning the 400 m at the age of 33 years 12 days, he earned the distinction of being the oldest gold medalist at any track event shorter than 5000 m in Olympic history. Johnson was also the anchor of the United States 4x400 relay team along with Alvin Harrison, Antonio Pettigrew, and Calvin Harrison, which originally won the gold medal, but was later stripped of the title after a few members of the team were found guilty of having used performance-enhancing drugs.
On July 18, 2004, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) ruled that Jerome Young was ineligible to compete in Sydney and annulled all his past results, including those achieved as part of relay teams. Young had competed for the USA team in the heats and semi-final of this event. Therefore, the United States team was stripped of the gold medal and Nigeria, Jamaica, and the Bahamas were moved up one position each. On July 22, 2005, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) overturned this decision and restored the original finish order of the race. Then on June 2008, Antonio Pettigrew "admitted in court he cheated to win" by using banned performance-enhancing substances, and agreed to return his gold medal. Johnson announced that he would return his own gold medal, won as part of the relay team with Pettigrew. Johnson stated that he felt "cheated, betrayed and let down" by what Pettigrew had done at the Games. Pettigrew committed suicide in 2010. Both of the Harrison twins on the relay team have subsequently received bans for doping offenses.
Johnson has run 200 m in under 19.80 seconds six times, and he has run the distance in less than 20 seconds twenty-three times. He holds nine of the top 50 200 m performances of all time. Johnson has run twenty-two 400 m races in under 44 seconds; he holds twenty-two of the top 50 and five of the top 10 400 m performances of all time. Over the course of his career, he twice set the world record in the 200 m, three times set the world record as part of the 4 x 400 m relay team, twice set the indoor 400 m world record, set the outdoor 400 m world record once, and set the 300 m mark once.
Since retiring from competitive track, Johnson currently works as a television commentator, often for the BBC in the United Kingdom, where he also writes a column for the Daily Telegraph. Johnson was part of the BBC's London 2012 presenting team.
In 2007 Johnson opened Michael Johnson Performance, at McKinney, Texas, a training facility for youth athletes aged 10 to 18 and professional athletes in all sports. The company is the Official Training Partner of the Dallas Cowboys and official training center of the Dallas Stars and FC Dallas.
Johnson's sport management company, Ultimate Performance, serves as agent for track and field athletes, including 2004 Summer Olympics 400 metre gold medalist and fellow Baylor alumnus Jeremy Wariner.
In June 2008, Johnson voluntarily returned the 4 x 400 m relay gold medal he earned in the 2000 Olympics after Antonio Pettigrew, who ran the second leg, admitted he took performance-enhancing drugs between 1997 and 2001. Pettigrew made his admission while giving testimony in the trial of coach Trevor Graham for his role in the BALCO scandal. On August 2, 2008, the International Olympic Committee stripped the gold medal from the U.S. men's 4x400-meter relay team. Three of the four runners in the event final, including Pettigrew and twins Alvin and Calvin Harrison, and preliminary round runner Jerome Young, all have admitted or tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs. Only Johnson and Angelo Taylor, who also ran in preliminary rounds, were not implicated. Johnson had already returned his medal because, as he said, he felt the medal was not won fairly.
Johnson appeared as a contestant on NBC's 9th season of The Celebrity Apprentice (2010), placing 10th after exiting the show due to a personal issue on the fifth episode of the season first airing April 11, 2010.
Johnson currently lives in Marin County, California, with his second wife Armine Shamiryan, a chef, and his son Sebastian, born in 2000 during his first marriage to entertainment reporter Kerry D'Oyen.
^In American English, the term "athlete" is a generic term for a competitive sportsperson, and is not specific to the sport known as "athletics" in most of the English-speaking world and "track and field" in the U.S.