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December 06, 2001

Outtakes with Michael Johnson

Dan Patrick hits the mixed zone with Michael Johnson

A condensed version of this interview appears in the Sept. 18 issue of ESPN The Magazine.

DP: If you participated in the winter games, what sport would you be in?
MJ: Luge.
DP: Because you like the outfit?
MJ: No, because I like saying luge.

DP: You've heard a lot of national anthems. What's your favorite?
MJ: I think it's the Czech anthem. It makes me laugh every time I hear it because it's kind of happy and peppy.
DP: So maybe we should send Puff Daddy over there and maybe he could do a remix.
MJ: Well, Puff will sample anything.
DP: Why say "sample"? It's called stealing.
MJ: True. True, but sampling sounds better.
DP: Speaking of stealing, how many bases would you steal if you played baseball?
MJ: All of them.
DP: As many as you wanted to steal?
MJ: Oh, yes. All of them.
DP: Have you ever tried to steal a base?
MJ: Yes, back when I used to play baseball -- like when I played baseball in my neighborhood when I was really young.
DP: But it was a given. You got on first, you would be on third eventually?
MJ: Home eventually.

The best bet I've ever made was -- no, I can't. I can't tell you about that one.
Michael Johnson

DP: If you ever got into a fight, you could outrun anybody.
MJ: Uh, it doesn't always work. When I was in sixth grade I was faster than everybody but I still got beat up by this white kid named Baser. We were playing football. I tackled him and he thought I hit him harder than I should have and so we got into a fight.

DP: There are a lot of track guys who go into football. Do you have any designs on doing that?
MJ: No, not at all. I don't like football. I like to watch football. I never liked playing football.
DP: But wouldn't you like to line up next to Deon and just say, "Let me see what you've got."
MJ: I know what he's got.
DP: But they would pay millions to get you in a uniform. The Oakland Raiders would pay you. You wouldn't take a pay cut. You would get a raise.
MJ: You think so? How much you think they'd pay me?
DP: Well, I'm saying you're going to make a few million dollars. You could make $5 million.
MJ: I already make that.
DP: All right, so maybe you'd take a pay cut.
MJ: And get hit? Yes, right. They're gonna want me to play receiver, just like they did when I was in 7th grade, and I'd go up there and get hit -- and I don't like getting hit.
DP: All right, but what's there left to prove in track and field? After you win a couple of golds, then what do you do? It's time to go and get another challenge.
MJ: Time to go play football.
DP: See, I think we could work on this. It'd be great.
MJ: Oh man, no. There's no way. I'm not going to go out there and get my body all beat up.

DP: Coolest thing in your room growing up.
MJ: My Tyco Night Glow racetrack. The cars had these lights on them and they could switch lanes, but if you switched at the same time the cars would just crash and you could knock the other person off the track. I wish I still had it.
DP: Since you make all this money, I think you could afford another one.
MJ: Who said I made all this money.
DP: You did.
You told me you made more than $5 million. So you can afford one of these racetracks.
MJ: This is getting pretty personal.

DP: Which pop icon needs to go away.
MJ: Emimen.
DP: You probably wouldn't tell him that.
MJ: Uh, yes, he's a white guy. I'd tell him to go away.

DP: Have you ever thought of something funny while you're running?
MJ: No.
DP: Have you ever thought of anything while you're running?
MJ: Actually, yes, I have. When you're out there you've got to be thinking about executing the strategy. When you start thinking about things that are unrelated to what you're doing, you lose focus and you probably lose the race.
DP: So is it best not to think of anything?
MJ: It's best to think of what you're doing and what's coming up next and going through your zones and executing the strategy. That's what you've got to be thinking about, otherwise you're probably going to lose.
DP: So when you get to certain points on the track, do you start to think of something different?
MJ: Yes. You break the race down into different zones. And it depends on the athlete -- it's not uniform across-the-board for every athlete. There's four or five zones in the 400. It could be that some guys may have less or may have more. When the gun goes off you want to be thinking about executing, you want to think about reacting to the gun. Then you want to think about your drive space -- driving up from the start position into running position. Then you want to get up to top speed. Then you're thinking about, OK, now that I've gotten up to the speed that I want to be at, I want to relax. Then you get into a power phase ... Then your body starts to fatigue and if you just let it go it's going to slow down. So you've got to start spending a little more energy towards the end of the race. So you're always thinking about something -- and also you're watching and noticing what's going on around you and where you're positioned and who's doing what -- so all of those things are going on all at once.

I want my son to be the next Dan Patrick.
Michael Johnson

DP: Describe the opening ceremonies from an athlete's perspective.
MJ: The opening ceremonies of the Olympics are about the only time that you really feel a sense of, I'm here representing my country. I mean, you'll feel it at some other points in the Olympics, so it's not the only time. But if you don't really feel it at any other point because you're kind of in the zone and trying to win the races and trying to, you know, achieve your own personal goals, that's the time when you really will. It'll really hit home that I'm here representing my country and it's serious -- but it's great.

DP: If your son wanted to be a sports writer, what would you tell him?
MJ: Are you crazy?
DP: Those would be your words of advice?
MJ: I thought I taught you better than that.
DP: What if he wanted to be a sprinter?
MJ: Are you crazy?
DP: Don't tell me you want your son to be the next Tiger Woods.
MJ: No, I want my son to be the next Dan Patrick.
DP: That's not good.
MJ: It's not good?
DP: No, no. You don't want that, although, you know, you can last a little longer in this than you can in the sprints.
MJ: True. True. You get to ask the questions instead of having to answer the questions.
DP: See, I'd rather answer than ask.
MJ: That's because you ask. See, I answer so I'd rather ask.
DP: All right. Ask.
MJ: What's Stuart Scott really like?
DP: He talks a good game. Some guys got game, other guys got gear. He always dresses the way you need to going in. He's got, you know, the shoes and his socks and he's got all the Air Jordan stuff. He's ready. And he's a pretty good football player and I think he likes Kung Fu movies.
MJ: I like Stuart.
DP: Also, he's got two daughters -- and he can't guard me.
MJ: But he can guard that little kid, though.
DP: Yes, he can. He can guard the little kid in the commercial. But he can't guard me. He's a good man.

DP: Dumbest argument you've ever gotten into.
MJ: Dumbest argument.
DP: Yes, with wife, friends.
MJ: Dumbest argument I've ever gotten into. Hmmm. Let me think about that because I've had some dumb arguments.
DP: We can come back to that.
MJ: Yes, let's come back to that, because I know I've had some dumb-ass fights.

DP: Worst outfit you've ever worn.
MJ: There's this designer who will remain nameless to protect the guilty. He was just dying to make me an outfit and become my designer -- make me clothes. I said OK, I'll give it a shot. So he makes me this suit and it was beyond phantom. It was up beyond phantom.
DP: So you were pimping.
MJ: Exactly. And I wore it from my closet to my bedroom and it never found its way outside of my house.
DP: Do you still have it?
MJ: No. I had it for awhile because I didn't know to do with it. There was no one who I could give it to. I have a lot of designers send me clothes, plus all of that Nike stuff ... I give a lot of it to my brother and my brothers-in-law, but I couldn't give them this.

DP: What's the funniest bet or best bet you've ever made?
MJ: The best bet I've ever made was -- no, I can't. I can't tell you about that one.
DP: Yes you can.
MJ: No, I can't tell you about that one.
DP: Yes, that's the one I want to know about.
MJ: I know.
DP: It had to do with a woman?
MJ: No, it didn't.
DP: I mean, you never said, look, if I run this, then you'll give me this.
MJ: For a woman?
DP: Yes.
MJ: No, I never said that.
DP: But the more you think about it, the more that's not bad.
MJ: That's not bad. I think I could use that with my wife.
DP: Have you made a silly bet with your brother or your coach?
MJ: Me and my coach bet a lot of times, but I'm trying to think of what's a good one. What's the best bet I ever made. I bet my coach one time that a certain sprinter who was at the time the world-record holder, that if he false-started -- this was at the Goodwill Games in 1994 -- that if there was a false start in the race that this guy wouldn't even play because I'm just that good. So there was a false start, the guy didn't play. World-record holder.
DP: What's his name?
MJ: You can figure it out. The 1994 Goodwill Games. Look back in 1994, who's the world-record holder.
DP: Are you afraid to mention his name?
MJ: I'm afraid of him.
DP: You are?
MJ: Yes.
DP: Why?
MJ: No, I'm just kidding.

DP: When you win the gold medal and you're on the podium, if you could pick a song to be played there, what would you have played? Aside from the anthem.
MJ: In '96 at the Olympics, after I finished the 200 and I'm running around the track during my victory lap, they were playing that song, I don't know who it's by, "You're unbelievable, da, da, da..." That was a good song. They'd play that.
DP: So let's say you're on the podium and you can have a song in Sydney.
MJ: In Sydney, let's see.
DP: Who do you like listening to. This isn't that tough a question.
MJ: Who I like listening to doesn't necessarily -- I mean I like Tupac, but I don't want Tupac playing when I'm on the podium.
DP: Why, you think there could be a drive-by shooting or something?
MJ: No, it's probably not appropriate, you know, to have Tupac playing while I'm on the podium ... I don't know.
DP: No, you have to pick somebody.
MJ: OK, that would be "You're Unbelievable" again.

DP: All right, did we come up with the dumbest argument you've ever gotten into? I mean, I've argued with my wife over olives before and that's a stupid argument.
MJ: It depends. I love olives.
DP: I'm not asking you to answer my problems.
MJ: But you're getting a bonus. I am answering.
DP: Oh, thank you. I'll tell my wife Michael Johnson likes olives.
MJ: Let me try to think. The dumbest argument I've ever gotten into or just a dumb argument that I've gotten into. Let's see.
DP: All right, we'll come back to that.

DP: Tell me the person who you didn't think would recognize you who did. Somebody that really surprised you.
MJ: Johnny Cochran.
DP: Now did you consider that a compliment?
MJ: Yes, because this was before I was popular enough to really get in any trouble and need him, so there was no other reason for him to recognize me other than, you know, he just sat there and watched me. It wasn't like he was scouting me or anything.
DP: So you didn't take it personally that he recognized you and you thought, oh, maybe he knows something I don't know?
MJ: I was right out of college -- so I didn't take it personally.
DP: Did you think he did a great job with O.J.? Did you become a fan because of what he did for O.J.?
MJ: No.
DP: Did you think O.J. did it?
MJ: I don't want to be calling you back [to have this cut out of the intereview).
DP: All right. So you think O.J. did it, and so do I.
MJ: Like I said, I don't want to be having my people call you back.

My shoes are made to be really, really light -- they're the lightest shoes out there. ... Because they're so lightweight, there's the danger that they may break down in the next race. So we decided to change to new shoes every race.
Michael Johnson

DP: Aside from your own Web site, which Web site do you visit most often?
MJ: Let's see.
DP: I think it's called
MJ: Before that one, CNN.
DP: How boring are you?
MJ: Yes, I know. But I don't like newspapers and I'm always on the go, so I like to be clear about what's going on.

DP: Has anybody ever mistaken you for somebody else?
MJ: When I was in college people used to always say I looked like Eddie Murphy.
DP: You don't look like Eddie Murphy.
MJ: I didn't think so either, but people used to always say that.
DP: You know, I look more like Eddie Murphy than you do.

DP: All right, so the dumbest argument you've ever gotten into.
MJ: That's a tough one.
DP: But you have an answer, just like you had the best bet you ever made and you didn't want to tell me that.
MJ: I can't think of one.

DP: Have you ever had a laughing fit at the wrong time?
MJ: Yes. In church. Because my dad used to always try to make me laugh in church.
DP: And then you'd get yelled at by your mom?
MJ: Yes, exactly.
DP: And then your dad would act like nothing happened?
MJ: That was his objective -- but it didn't work out. You knew he was up to it.

DP: You wear a different pair of shoes for every race. Why is that?
MJ: Because my shoes are made to be really, really light -- they're the lightest shoes out there. We've made the shoes so that they give me as much support as I need. But because they're so lightweight, there's the danger that they may break down in the next race. So we decided to change to new shoes every race.
DP: Have you ever run out of your shoes?
MJ: No. I haven't run out of my shoes.
DP: Have you ever had a flat tire? Have you ever blown your shoe out?
MJ: My training shoes, yes. In training, yes.

DP: Why did you blame the media for the Maurice Greene stuff. I didn't start that.
MJ: What are you talking about?
DP: You were saying that we made this into this big grudge match and you were yelling at the media after the Olympic trials.
MJ: I don't know what you're talking about. I wasn't even at the Olympic trials.
DP: You weren't?
MJ: No.
DP: Was that Eddie Murphy?
MJ: That was Eddie.
DP: Oh. I'm sorry. I thought it was you. It looked like you, but then you and Eddie Murphy look a lot alike. So you're not blaming the media now.
MJ: I never blamed the media. The media's great.
DP: Oh, will you shut up.
MJ: The media is great. I love the media.

DP: How do you top what you did in '96?
MJ: You don't. Track and field is not about trying to top what you did the last time. I mean, you're only as good as your last race is the way I look at this sport. When it comes down to it, every race you've got to go out there and nobody's giving you anything. Every race there's going to only be one winner, so that's the challenge right there. The challenge isn't, OK, in '96 I did this, so the next Olympics I've got to do even more. It's not about that. It's the Olympic Games. Everybody's at their best, and the best are there, and only one person can go home with the gold medal. And that in itself is enough.

DP: Could you teach me to be faster?
MJ: No. Absolutely not. You can't get faster. You're only born with so much good speed and you can only learn how to use that speed better. But you can't -- I can't teach you.
DP: You're singling me out. You're saying I can't get any faster?
MJ: No, I'm singling out the media. You're part of the media. ... Why would you want to run faster? Who are you running from?
DP: I'm not running from, I'm running to.
MJ: To what?
DP: To be great. And I want to wear those Spandex outfits too.
MJ: They are kind of silly. But you know what, they're comfortable.
DP: Screw comfort. I want to look hot.
MJ: The girls tell me I look hot.
DP: You know what? If you ran as fast (or as slow) as I did and wore that, you wouldn't look hot. OK? Because you're the fastest guy in the world, you look hot. Don't you understand that? They're lying to you. Once you slow down, you're not going to look hot.
MJ: And you think I'm still going to be wearing that once I slow down?
DP: Yes, because you're going to be walking around...
MJ: Going to the grocery store in a Unitard.
DP: You're going to be 50 years old walking around with your shoes and your outfit, saying, "Do you know who I am?" And people are going to say, "Eddie Murphy -- I love you man." You're going to have your gold medals around your neck. I can see this. I know what's going to happen here.
MJ: Oh man, you've learned nothing about me.
DP: Retirement is going to be so painful for you. You're going to be brought down to earth and you're probably going to be a member of the media.
MJ: Oh, Lord. DP: Talk about a fall from grace.

DP: What if you showed up in Sydney in a pair of cut-offs and one of those old-man muscle shirts -- those tank-top T-shirts -- and just ran in that. Maybe a pair of Converse.
MJ: First of all, I'd get sued by Nike for wearing those Converse.
DP: That can be a problem.
MJ: My wife would leave me for going out there with those cut-off shorts on and embarrassing her, and then the media would have a field day with me and then I'd ... have to go get a job, you know, as part of the media. And I'd be walking around with my medals on and asking everybody, "Do you know who I am?" That's what would happen.

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