Athletics: Johnson controls his speed to stay course

Mike Rowbottom talks to the US medal machine, who runs in Britain tomorrow

As you might expect of a man who has run 200 metres faster than anyone in history, Michael Johnson enjoys the sensation of speed.

Asked to describe his feelings about high velocity after completing his 200/400m double at last year's Olympic Games, he likened it to his childhood experiences in a home-made go-kart.

Next week Johnson, who makes his first British appearance in five years tomorrow when he races at Crystal Palace, will take command of a far more powerful means of transport. He has been invited by Ferrari's Michael Schumacher to spend a day with the team before the Belgian Grand Prix, and offered the chance of getting behind the wheel of a Formula One car.

The prospect of athletics' hottest property careering round the Spa-Francorchamps circuit on four wheels can hardly be comforting for Johnson's agent, Brad Hunt.

But Hunt, who has guided Johnson's business career since he arrived on the international scene seven years ago, is sanguine about the runner's plans. He knows that Johnson is not likely to do anything silly.

"Control is a key word for him," he said. Johnson will set about driving in the same meticulous fashion in which he prepares for racing on the athletics track, applying power only where it is required.

It is a curiosity that Johnson, who pulled out of a planned appearance at Sheffield after his defeat in Paris, should be making his return to this country at 200 metres, the distance he refused to run in last year's British Grand Prix.

His plans to run the 400m there were frustrated by a desire on the part of some British officials to prevent home runners suffering what they feared would be a morale-sapping defeat on the eve of the Atlanta Games. "If I had been one of those runners, I would have felt the decision was disrespectful to me," Johnson said.

Johnson's handlers made it understood that he would never run in Britain while the British Athletic Federation's executive chairman, Peter Radford, remained. Radford's departure this year has opened the way again.

In the wake of his exploits in Atlanta, Johnson has found his life opening out. This year he has devoted much energy to establishing himself as a commentator and analyst for NBC television, for whom he worked during rounds when he retained his world 400m title in Athens this month.

On the track, too, this year, it has been a case of what he describes as stepping into the unknown. His experience in Toronto on 1 June, when he pulled up injured during his $1m (pounds 630,000) One-to-One 150m challenge with Donovan Bailey, disrupted his season.

He still, one suspects, carries a cold anger at the way in which Bailey and emboldened members of the Canadian press baited him after the race, calling him, in Bailey's words, "a faker and a chicken". Johnson is unwilling to be drawn into discussing the matter.

"It's over now," he said. "You put these things behind you and move on."

His injury, to a quadricep muscle, caused him to miss the US trials. But the offer of a wild card by the International Amateur Athletic Federation guaranteed the appearance at the World Championships of the man most capable of boosting US television ratings.

Before receiving that invitation, he had suffered his first defeat over 400m in eight years, when he finished fifth in his comeback race in Paris on 25 June. Apart from one minor outing in Houston, he was not able to race again before defending his title in Athens.

"This is a very different season from any other I've had," he said. "It has been difficult for me to put a finger on where I'm at at any particular point."

It is a fair bet, however, that Sunday's appearance in the Spar Challenge - his first 200m in Britain since his astonishing 19.85sec performance seven years ago on a cool evening in Edinburgh - will not cause him undue stress.

Johnson, who will be 30 next month, has learned how to stay the course over the last decade. It is a virtue he ascribes to only two other 400 metres runners - his American colleague, Butch Reynolds, and Britain's Roger Black.

Asked to evaluate the new generation of British one-lap runners - Iwan Thomas, Mark Richardson and Jamie Baulch - Johnson replied with characteristic caution.

"In Britain there is always someone who is running well, but the next year they are not there. Someone like Iwan Thomas has run good times, but you have got to be able to continue with the same type of form throughout a championship. As a competitor, I'm sure Iwan's not happy with what happened in Athens."

The reason for the high casualty rate in one-lap running, he believes, is inherent in the event. "It is very difficult to train for and to run, too," he said.

"A lot of guys don't really know what they are doing out there. You can get lucky for a while, but then you have to learn your event.

"It is more mental than a lot of people think. Nobody can run the 400 all out. You have to know the pace, know when to give full effort and when less than full. It's difficult for a lot of guys to understand that."

Even more difficult for them to do it in the way he can.

Bailey, Johnson's tormentor in Toronto, will also be running tomorrow in a 100m field that includes Britain's 19-year-old world junior record holder, Dwain Chambers.

Cathy Freeman, the first Aboriginal athlete to win a world title, runs the 400m, while Marius Corbett, the South African who was surprise winner of the world javelin title, meets Britain's silver medallist, Steve Backley.

News
peoplePair enliven the Emirates bore-draw
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark episode 8, review
News
Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Ed Miliband (R) and Boris Johnson, mayor of London, talk on the Andrew Marr show in London April 26
General electionAndrew Marr forced to intervene as Boris and Miliband clash on TV
News
news
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

£26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions