MJ Speaks: Michael Johnson on the the Stars of Track and Field, His Double Gold, and Pursuing Greatness

On the 27th anniversary of his historic 19.32 200m to break the world record and become the first man to complete the Olympic 200/400 double, Michael Johnson joined us as the guest on the LetsRun.com Track Talk podcast with hosts Jonathan Gault and Robert Johnson (Rojo).

The iconic Johnson not only shared insights on his double gold and various aspects of his remarkable career, but he gave his thoughts on track and field’s current stars, the state of the sport, and discussed his current role in the sport and the world of entrepreneurship.

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Michael was full of praise for Noah Lyles, very impressed with what Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone is doing under Bobby Kersee, weighed in on Wayde van Niekerk vs Steven Gardiner, and can’t wait for the women’s 100m at Worlds with Sha’Carri Richardson and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce.

We advise you to listen to the full Michael Johnson podcast here on your favorite podcast player or in the player below. There is a reason why Michael not only is a legend in the sport, but one of the most captivating Twitter follows and pundits in the sport. But we also present to you some highlights of the podcast below and some memorable quotes.

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Michael on the his 19.32 200m WR & gold medal run at the 1996 Olympics: “I knew I was going to win”

Serendepitously, our interview with Micahel was done on the 27th anniversary of his 200m WR in Atlanta. When we asked him what he remembers about that day, Johnson said everything before he got to the track is a blur. But once he got to the track and it was go time (Michael had to run the 200 semi and final on the same day), he has vivid memories.

“I knew something special was going to happen. I knew I was going to win. I knew that, given how fast I felt like I was going to be able to run at that point, neither Ato [Boldon] or Frankie [Fredericks] was going to be able to run that fast. It was just a matter of execution and focus and making sure you don’t mess this up and then run as fast as you possibly can. Bring that record down to as low as you possibly can.”

Michael talked about his emotions after he won the gold, how he had some trepidation because he knew he had strained his hamstring and wouldn’t be able to run the 4×400. Always the pundit he notes how top athletes and fans want different things from the sport. The top athletes want to dominate and generally the fans want close competition.

On the current stars of the sport and high praise for Noah Lyles

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We talked at great length with Michael to get his takes on the current stars of the sport. He was impressed with the current crop of sprint superstars, but he perhaps had the most praise for Noah Lyles. When Rojo threw it out there that he believed Noah might never win an Olympic gold medal, Michael wouldn’t let it go quietly.

Michael said, “Are you crazy? Noah Lyles probably isn’t gonna win a gold medal ever? Are you serious? You seriously believe that Noah Lyles is never gonna win a gold medal?” When Rojo said he thought there was a decent chance Erriyon Knighton or Letsile Tebogo beat him next year at the Olympics, Johnson pointed out why Noah deserves to be the big favorite.

Michael said, “Noah’s getting faster, running consistently fast times. Regardless of all of that, times are one thing, but the thing is Noah’s been winning.

“Ever since he revealed in 2021, during the Olympics, that he had gotten off the antidepressants, he was dealing with some mental issues, he’s figured that out, and he’s been dominating ever since. He’s a world champion in 2019, he comes back now he’s a world champion in 2022. You see what he does in the 100 meters. Just not afraid and confident. Confidence is a big thing.

“When you’re consistent, you have the talent… and you’re confident, you’re very, very difficult to beat.”

Michael noted that there is one athlete on the line confident if they bring their “A” game they will win and that is Lyles.

Video clip of Michael on Noah:

His most anticipated event for the 2023 Worlds is …. the women’s 100m

“The women’s world championship at 100 meters is going to be fantastic. Obviously, you got a personality, like Sha’Carri who, you either love her or hate her or people love to love her and people love to hate her and people love to love the people who hate her … and all of that stuff, which is great.

“That’s fantastic. She’s shown a lot of potential and we know she can run really fast, but she hasn’t won a title yet. And this is her opportunity and she can but … Shericka [Jackson] and Shelly-Ann and Elaine [Thompson] if healthy enough, those are athletes who nothing matters to them other than this execution. They’re not frazzled by anything. They’re not intimidated by anything. Now a big part of when you have the talent and, and when you have the coaching and the training is all there, then it comes down to just [the] mental. It comes down to, can you mentally go into this situation, especially as a sprinter where you got to get it right on the day, you have to have the mindset to be able to not be distracted and to be able to put that race together in the moment. And they’re amazing at that.”

Who will win the 400 at Worlds this year? Wayde van Niekerk or Steven Gardiner

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“If I had to bet on one, I’d go Steven, but it wouldn’t surprise me [if Wayde won]. Wade’s a great athlete. And obviously when he is at his best, he’s formidable.”

On Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone running the 400 this year and whether she will get the world record

“I’ve been both impressed and it has been what I would expect from an athlete of her caliber and coaching from Bobby Kersee. I think her potential is unlimited in that event. But I don’t think that you can expect if you think about the obvious, ‘Can she break the world record in that event?’ I think it’s possible. I do. [However], I don’t think you can expect that she’s going to break the 400-meter world record. It’s not going to come as fast as it did in the 400-meter hurdles.”

Video clip of Michael on Sydney:

Michael on the state of the sport and its popularity in Europe compared to the US

We had Michael pontificate on the state of the sport, and asked him how the London Diamond League could get 50,000 fans for a meet while the US can’t sell out most nights of the World Championships. Michael noted the sports landscape in the US is very different than in Europe. In Europe, soccer is king and other team sports are an afterthought. In the US, you have NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL and now soccer getting popular which puts track further down the totem poll as a non-team sport.

“So let’s just get that disclaimer out of the way. Two things can be right at the same time. Track can be suffering [in Europe too], and it can be doing better in Europe than it is in the US. But that’s always been the case.”

Be sure to listen to the full podcast as Michael also talks about the state of the men’s 100m, his role now advising tech startups and founders of companies to perform their best, and how the famous gold shoes came about. Listen to the full pod here on your favorite podcast player.

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