Athletics: Sprinters' scourge Johnson offered the baton

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Michael Johnson, one of UK Athletics' arch-critics in recent years, has been approached by the UKA performance director, Dave Collins, regarding a possible advisory role.

The 38-year-old Texan, whose 200 and 400m world records still stand following his retirement from the track in 2000, has frequently questioned the attitude and technique of British sprinters in recent years while appearing as television pundit for the BBC. At the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, he questioned whether Darren Campbell really had injured his hamstring in preparing for the Games, prompting UKA's doctor to forward X-ray evidence as proof.

But in the wake of their failure to reach the Commonwealth sprint relay final two months ago, when the final baton exchange was bungled, Britain's sprinters - and Campbell in particular - have conceded that some of Johnson's comments may be worth listening to.

When asked whether he has been in contact with Collins, Johnson said: "He has called me. Our assistants are talking. I like some of the things he said and [he] liked some of the things I said." Collins confirmed that Johnson was one of a number of people UKA was talking to about advisory roles. "Someone like Michael is capable of contributing a great deal and we are excited that he is willing to consider playing some part," Collins said.

He admitted that such an appointment would not have been possible two years ago. "I probably wouldn't have put Michael in the same room as the sprinters. But even if Michael Johnson was an enemy of UKA - and I don't think he is - you can often learn more from enemies than you can from friends. You have to listen to criticism rather than ignore it. Maybe that's what got us into this mess in the first place. I would like to hear him on the subject of a winning mentality."

As Johnson contemplates a possible career move, another multiple world record holder is contemplating life off the track - Hicham El Guerrouj, who announced his retirement on Monday. "I have no willingness or motivation to continue competing,' said a tearful El Guerrouj, who has been plagued with injury since his last race, when he completed the Olympic 1500-5,000m double at the Athens Games. "I am quitting racing to spend more time with my family and focus on my business. But today's tears are of joy and not of pain."