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Posted: Saturday July 19, 2008 10:30PM; Updated: Sunday July 20, 2008 11:30PM
David Epstein David Epstein >
INSIDE OLYMPIC SPORTS

Catching Up With Michael Johnson

Story Highlights
  • Johnson still holds the world record in the 200 and 400
  • Serves as the agent for Jeremy Wariner, the favorite to win the 400 in Beijing
  • Michael Johnson Performance training center trains pro athletes
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Michael Johnson
The man known for his lightning-fast speed and golden shoes, American gold-medalist sprinter Michael Johnson now has his own performance training center in Texas.
Courtesy of AVIDGOLFER/Jason Wesch

It's the iconic image of modern American sprinting: Michael Johnson, golden shoes flashing past the clock reading 19.32 seconds at the end of the 1996 Olympic 200-meter dash. It was so much faster than anyone had ever run, that even Johnson looked stunned, throwing open his arms and screaming as he caught a glimpse of the time. He was alone, on top of the world.

These days, Johnson, 40, is a few steps slower. "I'd have a lot of time to look at that clock now," he jokes. He spends much of his time watching the speed of others.

The Michael Johnson Performance training center opened in June in McKinney, Texas, where Johnson works with other athletes, from youth soccer players to NFL stars and Chinese sprinters.

The 24,000 square-foot indoor training facility and the dozens of accompanying sports fields are the latest extension of what began in 2003 with Johnson and his training staff spreading the speed -- and strength and agility -- to NFL prospects prior to the combine.

"I think we've trained almost 30 first-round picks," Johnson said. The list includes No. 1-overall picks Alex Smith and Eli Manning, as well as the likes of LaDainian Tomlinson and Tony Romo. "Football players are scared to death before the combine. A top college prospect is going into the biggest job interview of his life, and he doesn't get to do his job."

Johnson's most fleet protégé, however, at 6-foot-1 and 150 pounds, is not an NFL star. Fellow Baylor alum Jeremy Wariner -- who won gold in Athens as a collegian -- dominated the quarter-mile like no man since, well, MJ. Johnson acts as Wariner's agent and mentor, and though he has not approached Johnson's 200-meter speed, the 24-year-old Wariner has been inching closer to Johnson's 400 mark.

"I'm doing everything I can to help him break my record [of 43.18 seconds]," Johnson said. "People find it strange that I want to see him do that, but I already broke the record, and I can't break it anymore."

People might also find it strange that Johnson is training Chinese sprinters -- they were allowed to train outside of China for the first time specifically to work out with Johnson and his team -- who may compete against Wariner in Beijing. But China's sprinters are a long way from Jeremy's league.

"It will be tough for China to get someone as far as the semifinal of the 400," Johnson said, noting that Chinese coaches were previously unfamiliar with fundamental practices of American sprinters, like the race-week taper (Chinese athletes would often just stop training for a week before a race). "But I think we can get both men's and women's 4x400 relays in the finals, and that would be a big success for them."

When Johnson's not at the training center, he's doing corporate motivational speaking for clients such as Microsoft and Sony; flying to London to do television commentary for BBC Sport; or writing his monthly column for Britain's Daily Telegraph. He splits his time between the Dallas area and San Francisco, where his 7-year-old son, Sebastian, lives.

"I did basically the same thing every day for 15 years," Johnson said of his running career. "Now I like to do something different every day."

That includes giving advice to Wariner on what to do if he follows in his mentor's footsteps by wearing gold shoes in Beijing: "If you wear gold shoes," Johnson said, "you better win."

 
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