Bolt the greatest, says MJ Former sprinting icon now tries to bring joy to others
MULTIPLE Olympic gold medallist Michael Johnson has hailed Jamaican Usain Bolt as the greatest sprinter the world has ever seen.
It was Bolt who broke American Johnson’s 12-year 200m world record 19.33sec (set at the Atlanta Olympic Games in 1996) at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, cantering home in a time of 19.30 as Johnson looked on.
Bolt, 25, has since lowered the time to 19.19 and is also the 100m world record holder in a time of 9.58.
“He’s taken sprinting to another level,” said Johnson, who was in Cape Town this week attending the Beyond Sport Summit Awards 2011.
“Usain has height and a huge stride to call on. There are some guys who measure up to Usain’s 6ft 6inch frame, but none who can cycle the limbs the way he does.
“What Usain has done for the world of sprinting has inspired a generation of new sprinters wanting to emulate the great man… I think that’s a wonderful thing. Like Usain, I was also blessed with a Godgiven talent.
“That’s half the job done. Success was attained through hard work on the track and getting the job done on race day.”
Johnson, 44, who holds eight World Championship titles, says a match race against Bolt would not have been his dream race.
“I don’t look at maybes in life. We never ran against each other because when I ran he was still in diapers. My dream race was winning the Olympic gold 200m in world record time in Atlanta.
“I was on home soil competing against the best ever at the time. It was a great race in all aspects and one of my proudest moments as an athlete.” His saddest moment? “Voluntarily handing back the Olympic gold medal won in the 4x400 relay 10 years after retiring from the sport after teammate Antonio Pettigrew admitted using performanceenhancing drugs,” said Johnson.
“My career was over and my legacy of having won five Olympic gold medals cast in stone. Then the admission.
“It was a heart- breaking moment for me, but the right thing to do was to hand back the medal won in an unfair manner. I was proud to do what I had to do though…”
Johnson currently holds the world and Olympic record in the 400 and 4x100 relay and is the fastest man over 300m.
So why did he never try out 100m? “I wasn’t born to run 100m,” said Johnson.
“It would be like asking a pole vaulter why he never took up being a golfer. My talent lay in long sprinting, I never bothered to run the shortest format because I wasn’t built for that.”
Yet Johnson, after breaking the 200m world record, was touted as the fastest man alive, prompting an unofficial “World’s Fastest Man” competition race over 150m in 1997 against the 100m world record holder at the time, Donovan Bailey – who won after Johnson pulled up at the 100m mark.
“How many athletes do you know who can run, win and break records in the 100, 200, 300 and 400m? There are none. I did it in three... four would have been impossible.”
Johnson signed off a legendary career with Olympic gold in the 400m in 2000.
Today, Johnson wears many hats, but one of his main goals is to help the less fortunate in achieving their goals.
“I was lucky in life in that my running ability enabled me to get a scholarship to go to a university,” he said.
“I got all the right training and education to further my life, goals and aspirations. What about those who can’t get a break in life? Hopefully, in my little way, I can bring joy to someone’s life.”
AMBASSADOR: Michael Johnson at the Beyond Sports event in the city this week.
VINTAGE: Michael Johnson on his way to gold at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.