Bolt the great­est, says MJ Former sprint­ing icon now tries to bring joy to oth­ers

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - SPORT - MIKE DE BRUYN

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.”

Peter Heeger/gallo Im­ages

AM­BAS­SADOR: Michael John­son at the Be­yond Sports event in the city this week.

Gallo Im­ages

VIN­TAGE: Michael John­son on his way to gold at the 1996 At­lanta Olympics.

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