Fox's 20th Century: 1995-2000: Michael Johnson

WHEN THE time came for Michael Johnson to put away the disappointment of the Barcelona Olympics, in which food poisoning ruined his hopes, there was not a more formidable sportsman in the world. In 1996 he arrived in Atlanta with a record of having won 55 successive finals over 400m, but he was much more than a one-lap wonder.

In the previous year's world championships he had taken three gold medals. He was on the verge of joining Jesse Owens and Carl Lewis in an American triumvirate of the greatest athletes in history. In Atlanta he aimed to win the 200 and 400m. No one else in Olympic history had achieved that, but he did more, smashing his own world record in the 200m and cruising the 400 ahead of Britain's Roger Black.

With his long torso and straight back, the 6ft 1in Johnson is the most instantly recognisable athlete in the world. The theory is that he can maintain an equal stride pattern throughout a race. In reality, he said that in the Olympic 200m final he stumbled through his first few strides, but off the turn he swept past Ato Boldon, who thought he was running well "until this blue blur came by. And I just thought, `There goes first'."

Almost as impressive as his record of medals were his sequences of unbeaten finals. Before Atlanta his succession of 400m victories had stretched back to February, 1989, while in the 200m he won 21 consecutive finals over two years ending in July, 1996. From early 1990 until June, 1992 he did not lose over either distance indoors or out.

The son of a truck driver in Dallas, he went to Skyline High School, where the track and field coach said his running style was "like a statue... they say his feet never touch the ground". Although injury problems slowed his early career, he became the world's No 1 over both sprint distances in 1990.

He was world champion for the first time (200m) the following year but 1992 brought his biggest disappointment when, after being the outstanding favourite for the Barcelona Olympic sprints, this most meticulous athlete ironically ate something that made him so ill that he missed all but the 4x400 relay, in which he assisted the States to a world record.

Having again become world champion (at 400m) in 1993, he then began attempting the 100m, in which he achieved 10.09sec, but in 1995 he concentrated on his best distances and reached the pinnacle of his career in Atlanta.

His performance in the 200m final was phenomenal. He ran the first 100m in 10.12 and the second in 9.20, which meant that Frankie Fredericks ran within 0.02sec of Johnson's previous world record yet finished three metres behind.


1900-1905 C B Fry

1905-1910 Jack Johnson

1910-1915 Jim Thorpe

1915-1920 Suzanne Lenglen

1920-1925 Paavo Nurmi

1925-1930 Dixie Dean

1930-1935 Don Bradman

1935-1940 Jesse Owens

1940-1945 Stanley Matthews

1945-1950 Fanny Blankers-Koen

1950-1955 Emil Zatopek

1955-1960 Juan Manuel Fangio

1960-1965 Arnold Palmer

1965-1970 Bobby Moore

1970-1975 Pele

1975-1980 Bjorn Borg

1980-1985 Carl Lewis

1985-1990 Ayrton Senna

1990-1995 Linford Christie

1995-2000 Michael Johnson

My Centurion:

Jesse Owens

Supreme all-round athlete, quadruple Olympic gold medal winner in 1936 and sportsman in the true sense of the word.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

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

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £45,000

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is a solutions / s...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £45,000

£18000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive is required t...

Recruitment Genius: Test Development Engineer

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you inspired to bring new a...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Motor Engineer

£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific