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“At first the anger came”

The only one who can beat me is me

Michael Johnson


Fourteen years ago I interviewed Michael Johnson (52). He was barely five years removed from the running tracks then.

I was still young an arrogant point. And it kept the world records of 200 (19s32) and 400 m (43s18).

At one point in the talk, he said to me:

– Right now, I don’t see anyone capable of overcoming my marks.

And so it stayed, wider than it was long.

When we talked, he was an athletics hero. According to many, the best athlete of his generation. According to others, one of the greatest of all time.

I was wondering: ‘What will become of me? What will be my quality of life? ”

We remember our forties, especially in those Atlanta Games, those of 1996:

The trunk, slightly leaning back.

Arms, flapping like a grinder.

The legs, at an unusual frequency.

Feet open.

They called him the duck. OR the Waco Express.

In Beaverton, Oregon, at Nike headquarters, they built a running track and named it after him, Michael Johnson, and raised a figure in his image and likeness.

The sculpture was even given the golden sneakers.

How that man flew, that invincible guy.


In reality, no one is invincible.

Not even Michael Johnson.

This is how I saw him a month ago, in Berlin, during the Laureus gala: without his records. Usain Bolt had snatched the 200m from him (19s19). And Wayde van Niekerk, the 400 (43s03).

Now Michael Johnson was aged, gray-haired, with a certain limp.

A year and a half ago, the myth saw the wolf’s ears. He was on the running tracks in Marin County, California. He was training his athletes.

And so…

I noticed a strange feeling in my left leg. Also on the arm, and on all that side of the body.

-And what he did?

I reacted quickly. I ran to the hospital. They gave me an MRI and admitted me. By then I was barely holding myself up. I couldn’t move my leg. And the pain in the arm was excruciating. Within two hours he was already under treatment. When they confirmed that I had had a heart attack, then the anger came.

– …?

–I was wondering: ‘What will become of me? What will be my quality of life? Will I be able to take care of myself and everyone around me? “

“And the anger?”

–I wondered later: ‘Why did this happen to me? If the doctors recommend that you don’t smoke, don’t put on weight, work, stay fit and eat well … ’ I had done all that, and yet I was on that stretcher.

“It’s a no-brainer, but life is like that,” I comment.

– Right, I assure you that this can happen to anyone. Life can be broken at any time. That happened to me.

–And what came later?

–My life as an athlete helped me.

There are videos on his Twitter profile: Michael Johnson says he concentrated all his strength on recovering as soon as possible.

Two days after the heart attack, he got up from the hospital bed and went to look for a walker.

– Interestingly, the walker was 200 m from my bed …

Say what it took fifteen minutes in covering that distance.

That another had collapsed.

– Imagine, I had had the world record for 200m.

He also says that, from that moment, he started olympic mode.

This is his olympic mode:

On one occasion, in the winter of 1996, the track was icy in Texas. It was terribly cold. Michael Johnson and his companions practiced 150m series. Clyde Hart, the coach, sent the boys to the gym. Everyone left except Michael Johnson.

This can happen to anyone; life can be broken at any moment: that happened to me ”

The myth continued adding meters on the tartan. When Clyde Hart went to tell him to go inside with the others, Michael Johnson replied:

–And if the day of the competition is cold and the track is frozen, what will happen? Will the competitions stop?

Clyde Hart left with the boys.

Michael Johnson remained outside, training. At the Atlanta Games, months later, he won the 400 and broke the record of 200 m.



–What I want is to inspire others. Show them that we can all recover from something like that. And above all, make them understand that the most important thing is to recognize it from the first moment.

“What about his mind?”

Well, my mind has never changed. I was already strong before this happened and I am still strong now.

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