He crawls into bed. He tells his parents there is no need for watch-its! or what-abouts?, no need to see a doctor. Surely by tomorrow this will pass.
Tomorrow comes, then another tomorrow. Each time he feels sure he is over it, the rumble returns to his stomach. He's three pounds lighter...five pounds...eight pounds—how can a man with virtually no body fat lose that weight and still outrun the fastest runners in the world?
But there is no need to panic. After all, his focus, more than his body, is what separates him from the pack. His focus hasn't been food-poisoned. Isn't he the man who crawls so far inside of himself on the days when he trains alone at SMU that, as far as he is concerned, everything but his track workout ceases to exist? Isn't he the one who amazed his coach by running repeat 200s on a day when it was raining so hard in Waco that you couldn't see your hand if you stuck it out the window? "Might have to run a final in the rain some day," he told Hart. Hasn't he tortured himself with a regimen of weightlifting and stretching that put an end to all the leg injuries that crippled his college career? Hasn't he thought and spoken these words like a mantra: "All I have to have is a goal. That's all I need."
He will simply go back to Waco, where he keeps an apartment and trains on Baylor's track under Hart at least three days each week, and reapply his monstrous will to the task. Go back to running those relentless series of 300s and 350s, reaching the orange traffic cones set up every 50 meters at the exact instant when the synchronized sideline horn sounds so that his pace is mercilessly uniform. Back to counting the blinks on his digital watch so his rest interval between 350s never varies from Hart's instructions. Back to the tape measure he uses to make sure his left starting block is precisely 24 inches behind the starting line and his right one 42½ inches behind the line, rather than approximating the distance with his feet the way others do. Back to the assembly line groove that mass-produces those sub-20-second 200s and sub-44-second 400s all summer long. His goal will save him.
UCLA track assistant coach John Smith: "It's a battlefield for Michael Johnson. He's going to war. Figure it out. If you miss one workout a week during the season, that's 22 a year. Multiply that by five years, that's 110 workouts, or three months of training. Michael Johnson never misses a day. Michael Johnson is three months ahead of his competitors."
But something's wrong, even after his intestines slop boiling. The weight loss has sapped him of strength in his last week of workouts in the U.S. An awareness of this floats through the fringe of his brain only in fuzzy, half-formed thoughts, because the factory of his mind has been so will-whipped to pump out the normal thoughts: This is mine. I own the 200. No one can take it from me. He flies to Barcelona. He won't play cards or dominoes with the other runners. He never does. He'll socialize with a few of them now and then, but he never blurs business with friendship. He has fired a pair of cleaning ladies and several business associates. "I'd be scared to work for Michael Johnson if I wasn't very confident of my abilities," says Kristen Barker, a friend since their days on the Baylor track team. "He's a very warm and caring person with his friends, but there are no feelings attached when it comes to business."
Let the other runners read arrogance into those cool eyes, that perfectly clipped mustache and deep voice. "They take him the wrong way," says Gwen Torrence, the U.S. women's 100-meter champion. "I argue with people on the circuit all the time about him. People don't know how to approach him because he doesn't smile. He doesn't need gratification from the outside. Those are the ingredients of a champion."
"Most people tend to think that there's something that I'm not giving them," says Michael. "There isn't. If I'm not exciting to everyone else, so be it. I excite myself. That's all that matters to me. There are no secrets to hide, no skeletons in the closet. It's just the way I am. I don't trust easily. Because I've always been so close to my family, I knew I could rely upon them. So I didn't really go out and trust other people. It may have caused me to miss out on some opportunities. But it's much safer for me. I'd rather be safe than to trust someone and they end up turning on me."
It's time to run his first Olympic heat in Barcelona. It's time for America to discover what track connoisseurs have been marveling over for three years. His preparation is the same as always. He empties his music case of the R&B and jazz that he normally listens to, and loads it front to end with gangsta rap. It may not harmonize with the briefcase, electronic organizer and pressed pants, but it's perfect chamber music for the dark cubicle he is padlocking himself inside. "The Danger Zone," he calls it. He walks by friends at the stadium without a glance. He finds a piece of territory away from the others to stretch and jog. He stares into his forearm, into the ground, into space—anywhere but into human eyes. The others make small talk or pace or chew gum or dip their shoulders to their headphone music or offer "good luck" to their competitors. None of that for Michael. None of it. "At this point," he'll admit, "I hate them. Those seven guys are trying to take something away from me. It's automatic for me. I don't have to build it up. That's the difference between me and them."
"No one on the circuit knows his fears and insecurities, and he keeps it that way," says Neal. "Many of his opponents lose to him before they get on the track. He always looks like he's going to run fast. He exudes total confidence. He never lets them see him sweat."