IN KUALA LUMPUR
Usain Bolt is the fastest man on the planet over 100m and 200m, but not the 400m (yet).
That record belongs to Michael Johnson, who set a sensational 43.18s mark back in 1999 that has yet to be smashed. Even then, the retired US legend remains an unashamed admirer of Jamaican phenomenon Bolt, whose personal best in the 400m is slower by over two whopping seconds.
“He’s extremely talented and is one of those athletes born with out-of-this-world talent. There’s no doubt about that,” Johnson, 46, raved to reporters in Malaysia ahead of the Laureus World Sports Awards to be held Wednesday evening in Kuala Lumpur.
The four-time Olympic and eight-time world champion insisted that natural ability was “first and foremost” in the makeup of a great athlete. “You can practice for 10,000 hours but it’s (still) critical to have talent,” said Johnson, who is the only man to win both the 200m and 400m at one Olympics in 1996. “We can’t fool ourselves in sports. It’s all about athletic ability now. Everyone at the highest level has it.”
He did, however, concede that talent alone would not suffice to yield success. “It’s not enough just to be gifted. You have to go out there and figure out how to take that talent and direct it to be the best you can be,” said Johnson, his still-lithe, 1.85m frame bringing to mind the famously unorthodox style of rigid posture and quick-fire steps that he once adopted.
Johnson went on to explain: “You can have extraordinary talent and work really hard every day, (but it) doesn’t mean you’re working smart, doesn’t mean you really completely understand what it takes for you to step out on the track; handle the pressure and produce the best performance when it counts.”
For an athlete to reach that level, said Johnson, one requires a few essential ingredients. “Great coaching and support,” he said, while pointing out that athletes themselves also have to be motivated and inspired to do everything they possibly can.
He said that athletes have to be obsessed with finding the most effective training methods and trying to achieve the perfect execution, whether it be for a race, game or match. They should also be “very, very critical of themselves”, Johnson added.
“I think that’s what makes a great athlete,” he said.
Finally, when asked for his forecast of the sprint events at the 2016 Olympics in Brazil, Johnson immediately waged his bets on Jamaica and its youthful world-beaters like Bolt and his female counterpart Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, both only 27 now.
“You’ve got young kids there inspired by the success of Bolt and (Yohan) Blake and all of the Jamaican team, plus there’s been renewed investment in coaching and great training too,” said Johnson. “The Jamaicans will continue to be tough for years to come.”
IN KUALA LUMPUR