Olympics over, Johnson still on whirlwind pace Match race with Bailey keeps him in step

November 20, 1996|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

Michael Johnson's life since the Olympic Games has been much the same as the time he spent on the track in Atlanta -- a mind-boggling blur.

Take yesterday, when Johnson woke up in New York after being honored there at a banquet Monday night, flew to Toronto for a news conference to announce a match race with 100-meter gold medalist and world-record holder Donovan Bailey and wound up in Baltimore last night for a book-signing appearance at a Pikesville bookstore.

"Slaying The Dragon" is a motivational guide wrapped within an autobiography. It speaks at the essence of Johnson, the ultimate life planner who would like you to believe his history-making performance this summer was merely the result of following a blueprint that he and his coach, Clyde Hart of Baylor, drew up years before.

"By the time I got to Atlanta, part of the reason I was so successful was that I had already learned how to handle the pressure," said Johnson, now 29. "I had learned the things that I had put into the book. By using that formula, everything went surprisingly so well there wasn't anything we learned."

But the dragons that have followed Johnson for the past decade -- from a rather nondescript high school athletic career in Dallas to his years as an All-American under Hart to his disappointment four years ago in Barcelona, where a bad case of food poisoning put his Olympic dream on hold for four years -- are still lurking.

They come in all forms, human and otherwise.

After becoming the first man in Olympic history to win both the 200 meters and 400 meters, Johnson could become the first to repeat in either event. Or both. After Johnson chased down Pietro Mennea's 17-year-old record in the 200 twice in five weeks, first at the Olympic Trials and again at the Olympics, many believe he could eventually do the same to Butch Reynolds' seven-year-old record in the 400.

There also is another obstacle that has brought other athletes down.

"I certainly think one of the elements you have to fight as you get more successful is complacency," Hart said yesterday from Waco, Texas. "But he's a very highly motivated young man and there are still a lot of goals out there for him to accomplish. The worst thing you can do is set goals to break world records. We've never done that. But Michael is a rare individual. When he hits a plateau, he comes back even stronger."

There isn't a sniff of complacency about Johnson. The post-Olympic celebration, which caused a bit of a flap when he had to put off returning to his college town and sometimes residence for a day in his honor, has led to a number of lucrative endorsements in both the United States and Europe.

It also led to his 150-meter match race with Bailey to determine who is the fastest man in the world. At a news conference yesterday, it was announced that both athletes would be guaranteed $500,000 and the winner would receive another $1 million for the race scheduled on Bailey's home turf in Toronto in May.

"I told you the race would happen -- on my terms," said Bailey.

Said Johnson, "I never set out to be the world's fastest man. A lot of people decided to give me that title."

One of them was Ato Boldon, who might hold the title one day fTC himself. After finishing third to Bailey in the 100 and to Johnson in the 200, Boldon was asked who was faster. "He's sitting to my left," said Boldon, pointing at Johnson.

Hart points to the fact that Johnson won 11 of 13 races this year.

"When Bailey broke the world record in Atlanta, he was the fastest at the moment," said Hart.

While some have dreamed of this matchup, it's not something that consumes Johnson. All of his dreams do not involve running as fast as some cars go through a neighborhood -- he was clocked at 23 miles an hour during the Olympic 200 final -- or becoming one of the most celebrated athletes in history.

In fact, when Johnson looks past the 2000 Games in Sydney, Australia, he sees himself playing different roles.

There is the businessman who wants to build on his current minority ownership in the Dallas Mavericks and become a majority owner of a sports franchise. There is the homebody who would like to become as good a father and role model to his own children as his father, Paul Sr., a truck driver, has been to him.

"I look forward to having my own family and take some of the things that I've learned from my parents and apply them to my own," said Johnson.

Things eventually will slow down a bit for Johnson. He plans to return to Waco shortly to begin more serious training. It will give him time to savor the past four years in general, and the past four months in particular.

But not for long. Another dragon will be out there, lurking.

Pub Date: 11/20/96

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