There's no business like shoe business

Sydney 2000

The old sparkle was certainly missing from Michael Johnson on the final day of the trials for the United States' Oly-mpic track and field team in Sacramento last Sunday. It was evident long before the Texan pulled up clutching his left thigh 80 metres into the 200m final. You just had to look at his feet on the start line. His shoes did not glitter with their usual gold.

The old sparkle was certainly missing from Michael Johnson on the final day of the trials for the United States' Oly-mpic track and field team in Sacramento last Sunday. It was evident long before the Texan pulled up clutching his left thigh 80 metres into the 200m final. You just had to look at his feet on the start line. His shoes did not glitter with their usual gold.

The man with the Midas touch was sporting a shoe colour chosen by votes cast on Nike's website. Having "made waves" in his first- round heat in Aqua and "burned up the track" in his semi-final in Fire, Johnson, according to his shoe sponsor, was "ready to erupt" in Lava in the final. And erupt he did, ripping hamstring fibres and blowing his chances of retaining the Olympic 200m title he won inAtlanta four years ago.

He still has his Olympic 400m crown, of course, and this week he will start preparing for the defence of it - and not just on the training track. Johnson takes his shoe business quite seriously, as well he might given the £2m he reputedly receives each year for his high- speed advertising of the Nike swoosh logo. He works on the design of his running spikes with a special product-development team headed by the former Surrey miler Tony Bignell at the company's headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon.

The upper section of the gold shoes the Johnson team created for the world championships in Seville last summer were made of parachute nylon. It was hardly surprising that the superman of the track flew through the 400m final in world- record time, but the model under construction for his Olympic appearance incorporates a different form of innovative material.

Precisely what it is, Nike are not prepared to reveal as yet, though it can be confirmed that the old colour will be back on Johnson's feet when he runs in Sydney. He will be going for gold in gold.

Mo's zippy answer

Jade Johnson is no relation of Michael, but she also has a rather special pair of running spikes. They were given to the colourfully named British long-jump international by the other sprinting superman who crashed to earth in Sacramento last Sunday. "They're really nice," Johnson said. "They're red, black and silver and they've got this stretchy material that zips up at the front so you can't see the laces. They've also got the letters 'MO' inscribed on the side."

Johnson got to know Mo Greene - Maurice Greene, that is - when she competed on the indoor circuit earlier this year. "He's a really nice guy," the 20-year-old Herne Hill Harrier said. "We were in Helsinki and I asked him, 'Where did you get those shoes from? I really like them.' And he just gave them to me.

"They're size nine-and-a-half. I'm eight-and-a-half, but with my orthotic shoe inserts I go up a size, so they fit me quite well."

As specialist sprint spikes, they are not suitable for use in long-jump competition, but Johnson, aiming for Sydney selection at the British trials in Birmingham on 11-13 August, wears them for her speed-training sessions. Judging by her form in the European Cup a fortnight ago, a little of their original owner's fleet-footedness has rubbed off on her. The trouble was she went so fast on the Gateshead runway she struggled to hit the take-off board.

Size matters

Jade Johnson was only four when Chris Maddocks first competed on the Olympic stage, at Los Angeles in 1984. At the age of 40, the Plymouth race-walker is getting ready for his fifth Games, a feat never before achieved by a male British track-and-field athlete. The trouble for him is the feet of a race walker do not happen to be in great demand by shoe manufacturers.

After featuring without a logo in sight in Athletics Weekly last month, Maddocks confessed that his att-empts to secure a shoe contract had come to nought. "I did get one complimentary pair of racing shoes from Asics, but they were too small," he said at the time. "I sent them back." A correctly fitting pair has since arrived. Remember, you read it here first: five-time Olympian gets a free pair of shoes.

Going back to Asics

It was a pair of Asics shoes that got Lasse Viren into trouble at the Montreal Olympics in 1976. On the eve of the 5,000m final, Viren was called before the International Olympic Committee's technical committee and asked to explain why he had carried his spikes aloft on his lap of honour after winning the 10,000m. He stood accused of contravening Olympic rules in place at the time concerning commercialism. The Finnish policeman fought a successful defence, though. He maintained he had simply been suffering from blisters.

Sponsors in split

And finally... Quincy Watts was not slow to exploit commercially his winning 400m run at the Barcelona Games in 1992. Soon afterwards he was starring in a Nike television commercial in which a Viking king offered to swap his "super-cushioned wife" for a pair of the American's "super-cushioned Air Max shoes". Watts took one look at the woman before sprinting off at full speed.

A year later, Watts was sprinting at full speed in pursuit of Michael Johnson in the world championship 400m final in Stuttgart when the sole of his left shoe came away and was left flapping like a barn door. After trailing across the line in fourth place, he lifted up his split shoe to show the crowd - to the considerable embarrassment of the Nike executives in attendance. For all concerned, it was truly sole-destroying.

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