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Michael Johnson on Sprinting

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Four-time gold medalist and eight-time world champion Michael Johnson is widely celebrated as one of history's finest sprinters. Wearing the gilded spike, designed by Tobie Hatfield, Johnson took gold in both the 200 meters (setting a world record of 19.32 seconds, which stood for 12 years) and 400 meters at the Atlanta Games. Beyond, through his Michael Johnson Performance Center in McKinney, Texas, Johnson is invested in relaying his expertise to the next generation of athletes. Here, he explains the strategy behind sprinting and reflects on wearing the gold spikes 20 years ago.

On Sprinting

“There is a strategy [to sprinting] you might not expect. Many people think that if you’re good, it’s just because you were born good. But like any other sport, the more experience you gain the better you get. Experience allows you to execute the race much closer to perfection. There are things that sprinters are doing at 30 meters and at 20 meters and at 10 meters and 40 meters, and every point of the race, because that’s how you run the race. There’s not a point, ever, in any race — whether it’s 100 meters or 200 meters or 400 meters — when you’re not thinking and making adjustments and executing a strategy.

“People tend to look at sprinting as simple: The gun goes off and you just take off and run as fast as you can. But there’s technique, there’s strategy involved. The best basketball players are the greatest players because they can make adjustments. It’s the same thing that track athletes do — it’s just that you are able to see the complexity of other sports.”

On His Gold Spike

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“The idea behind [the 1996 gold spike] was to develop a shoe to my specifications: I wanted it extremely lightweight, I wanted it to be extremely stable, I wanted it to work with my foot and, specifically, with how my foot was interacting with the track in the 200 meters as well as the 400 meters, around the bend and down the straight. And I wanted it to look very cool. We worked for about a year and a half to make this shoe accomplish all of those objectives. Then I asked Tobie Hatfield: Can you make it in gold? And he said: “Yeah, absolutely.” I don’t think they really thought I was serious. Then it kind of dawned on them: He’s really going to wear gold shoes.”