Olympic sprint champion Michael Johnson … from world records in golden shoes, to high performance and just walking

December 26, 2018

Michael Johnson is one day younger than me.

Johnson was the world’s greatest 200/400m runner. His performance were out of this world. For a number of years, he really was at a different level to the rest of humanity.

His best moments came in 1996 at the Atlanta Olympics. He walked on track, in front of his home crowd in golden Nike spikes. Talk about confidence. He walked back out of the stadium with two gold medals in the 200m and 400m, the former in a sensational world record.

At the 2000 Games in Sydney, he defended his 400m title becoming – at 33 years 12 days – the oldest champion of any track event shorter than 5,000m. He won many more golds at World Championships and in 4x400m relays too.

After hanging up the golden spikes “Superman” was faced with a distinctly ordinary world. He turned his hand to sports commentary, becoming a permanent fixture on the BBC at every major athletics event.

His on screen “execution”, as he loves to call it, was superb. Unlike most other ex-athletes he was crisp and disciplined, thoughtful and provocative.

12 years ago he launched his own business Michael Johnson Performance, a bespoke training institute he set up in the Texan city of McKinney. Over the course of the last decade this facility, and the philosophy and approach behind it, has been utilised by elite sporting clients who range from Premier League sides such as Manchester United to NFL American Football teams such as Dallas Stars, from Formula 1 teams to National Olympic Federations.

The MJP brand has become a global one, and is about to launch on another significant expansion. The USP is Johnson himself, and his self-confessedly obsessional attention to detail – an obsession that he required to maintain a ten-year career that saw him win a first global gold at the 1991 World Championships and a last one at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

Johnson has shaped the MJP offering through his own experience, assisted by carefully assembled groups of experts in the fields of Performance, Sports Medicine, Nutrition and Mental Skills, and also with the support of the company who sponsored him during his glory years, Nike.

At the heart of the operation is NextGen, an athletic development programme that is, according to the MJP site, “centered around the personalized training philosophy of Olympic gold medallist, Michael Johnson.

“With progressive methods, we take athletes with raw talent and develop their fundamentals to help them excel across all sports in which they compete.

“Our programs are based on years of research and scientific exploration. By utilizing our partnership with Nike, we take the latest technology and innovations in training to draw out the potential of every athlete. MJP’s NextGen Program takes athletes to the next level.”

It all sounds fine. But the proof of its effectiveness, unimpeachably, is the list of current clients.

The MJP centre numbers among its regulars the local National Hockey Leaguers Dallas Stars and players from the NFL American Football side Dallas Cowboys.

Johnson was personally engaged two years ago to work on the speed and strength of players in the Arsenal FC youth ranks.

“Over the years,” Johnson adds, “we have also worked with Manchester United, the Football Association, and numerous Olympic committees including Brazil, Trinidad and Tobago, China, Romania, Azerbaijan, Cayman Islands, and Japan.

“We’ve worked with athletes from all 32 teams in the NFL.

“We worked with sports as varied as Williams F1 team and Professional Bull riders….

“We have some ongoing clients who we’ve worked with for years and some clients who come in for a Two-day Advanced Athlete Assessment only. One interesting development is the expansion of our services – we have recently launched our MJP Coach Education Certification in China where we are certifying coaches and trainers on the MJP training methodology with two courses each month.

“We will launch worldwide in 2018.”

So what was Johnson hoping for when he started MJP, and how has the reality measured up?

“The vision for MJP was to assemble a group of experts in all areas of sport performance to assist and support athletes whether individual or as part of a team, to reach their full potential,” he says.

“Our mission is to help every athlete reach their full potential regardless of sport, gender, ability level, or limitation. We help sports people to be the best athlete they can be from ages nine through to professionals at the highest level, in all sports, including able-bodied and athletes with a disability.”

Asked if he believes MJP is offering something that rival organisations cannot match, Johnson responds:

“We don’t really compare ourselves to others. What we do is somewhat unique simply because we are not a sport specific organisation. We are sport agnostic and we focus on athleticism and performance, developing athleticism properly for youth athletes, and improving athletic performance specific to the sport of the athlete at the elite level.

“In our 10 years, we have worked with athletes from over 30 different countries and over 25 different sports. This wealth of experience gives our organisation a unique ability to develop solutions to the challenges faced by sports organisations and athletes in developing and improving athleticism and sport performance.

“I think many people don’t understand how MJP performance services work. We are not just a facility where people come to train and we don’t have just one solution, which is simply training with us.”

The list of MJP services includes tailored training programmes, visiting athletic performance consulting services, physical therapy and injury rehabilitation, bespoke training camps, coach education and input from Nike sport scientists.

“We have brought together experts from all areas of developing and improving athleticism,” Johnson says. “And with all of those experts cooperating together with the athlete in the centre of it all, we are uniquely positioned to help the athlete reach their full potential. This is exactly what I attribute my career longevity and consistency to, and was the reason behind starting Michael Johnson Performance.

In September last year the invisible Michael Johnson, the tough talking, supreme performing athlete, who called himself Superman, had a stroke.

He realised he was human. After a number of weeks in hospital, and the in recovery it took him 15 minutes to walk 200m, the distance he once ran in 19.32 seconds.

“I was achieving tiny incremental improvements and it gave me hope,” Johnson told the BBC.

“I told my wife I was confident of making a full recovery and not only will I do that, I will do it faster than anybody else has done before.

“I knew then the recovery was going to be down to hard work, focus and commitment to the process. That is something I am very familiar with.

“Almost three months on now from the stroke and I am pretty much back to normal and back to work.”

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