Athletics: Johnson takes unconventional route to join the sprinters' élite

The fastest man in the world this year has no shoe contract, and there is none on the horizon, but Patrick Johnson has more pressing matters on his mind. The first Australian to run 100 metres in less than 10 seconds, Johnson is convinced he can it mix with the best, and he is determined to prove it at the World Championships in Paris in August.

Breaking the 10-second barrier is still an extraordinary feat, achieved by only a handful of élite sprinters. Johnson did it at the age of 30, after running seriously for only six years. His time of 9.93sec, recorded last month in Mito, Japan, was the 17th fastest in history.

For Australia, it meant the end of a mortifyingly long wait to join the sub-10 second club. For Johnson, too, it was a watershed, allowing him to draw a line under a succession of injury-plagued seasons and silence critics who whispered that he was physically not capable of it.

Johnson is now focused on winning a place in the 100m and 200m finals in Paris, and in Athens next year. A week after Mito, he sent a signal to his far better known competitors when he was beaten into second place, by just a hundredth of a second, by the world record holder, Tim Montgomery, at a meet in Osaka. This time he ran in 10.05.

"I feel this is the tip of the iceberg," he said at the Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra last week, just before leaving for Europe. "I'm planning to step up to the next level and run even faster." Johnson's background is unconventional, to say the least. He was born on a speedboat that was taking his Aboriginal mother, Pearl, to hospital after she went into labour unexpectedly. She died in a car accident when he was 18 months old; he spent his childhood sailing up and down the Queensland coast with his Irish fisherman father, Patrick.

When Patrick Snr wanted to snatch forty winks, he would hand the boy the wheel of his trawler. "Living on a boat, taking responsibility for your own actions in life and death situations, you grow up fast," said Johnson. His father recognised his talent early on, betting beers with Queensland pub patrons that the seven-year-old could outrun them. He was given Cokes as a reward.

Johnson went to boarding school in Canberra, where he discovered a love of sprinting. But it remained a hobby until he competed "for fun" in the 100m at the 1996 Australian University Games, winning in 10.47. He was spotted there by Esa Peltola, a Finnish coach, who persuaded him to take up an athletics scholarship at the AIS.

Johnson turned down offers of lucrative rugby league contracts, but a series of injuries prevented him from qualifying for individual sprint events at the last two World Championships and the last two Commonwealth Games. Injured once again in the run-up to the Sydney Olympics, he was knocked out in the quarter-finals of the 100m and 200m.

But for the past year he has been injury-free, and he now looks like a credible medal contender in Paris. Can he stand the pressure, in a sport dominated by the likes of Maurice Greene, the Olympic champion, and Montgomery, who chalked up 9.78 at the Paris Grand Prix last year? Introverted and quietly spoken, Johnson is a very different type. But he is unusually well-balanced and mature. Employed by the Department of Foreign Affairs, he hopes for a diplomatic posting after he retires from athletics. He speaks several languages and is studying part-time for an international relations degree.

Peltola said: "He has a rare ability to embrace new ideas and drive towards excellence. I don't know exactly how fast he can run, but I'm certain that he can run faster than he's doing now." Johnson agrees he is single-minded. "Anything I do, I put 120 per cent into it, and no regrets." Of his flashier rivals, he said: "I'm hoping they'll get caught up in themselves and forget about me, and I'll just slip off the radar." He also claims that his age is no impediment. "I don't see myself as old," he said. "I never set any limit on what I can achieve." Could he win an Olympic medal? "I'm looking at getting to the finals. Once you're in that situation, anything can happen." On the absence of sponsors, Johnson said: "For me, it's not about money. It's about personal achievement, challenging myself and testing my abilities. Some people fear the unknown; I love the unknown, because then I can conquer it. That's what sprinting is about for me: how fast can the human person run?"

Sport
Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi during Barcelona training in August
footballPete Jenson co-ghost wrote Suarez’s autobiography and reveals how desperate he's been to return
News
newsMcKamey Manor says 'there is no escape until the tour is completed'
Voices
Hunted: A stag lies dead on Jura, where David Cameron holidays and has himself stalked deer
voicesThe Scotland I know is becoming a playground for the rich
News
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Architect Frank Gehry is regarded by many as the most important architect of the modern era
arts + entsGehry has declared that 98 per cent of modern architecture is "s**t"
Money
Welcome to tinsel town: retailers such as Selfridges will be Santa's little helpers this Christmas, working hard to persuade shoppers to stock up on gifts
news
Arts and Entertainment
Soul singer Sam Smith cleared up at the Mobo awards this week
newsSam Smith’s Mobo triumph is just the latest example of a trend
News
Laurence Easeman and Russell Brand
people
Sport
Fans of Dulwich Hamlet FC at their ground Champion Hill
footballFans are rejecting the £2,000 season tickets, officious stewarding, and airline-stadium sponsorship
News
Shami Chakrabarti
people
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has refused to deny his involvement in the upcoming new Star Wars film
filmBenedict Cumberbatch reignites Star Wars 7 rumours
Sport
football
News
news
Caption competition
Caption competition
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

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker