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Relentless preparation drove Johnson’s track success

michael johnson at UW DallasIn the final three months before an Olympic athlete steps up to the starting line, his or her daily goal is just to “be better today than you were yesterday.”  That advice from Michael Johnson ‘91 about the critical importance of preparation also translates well to non-Olympic athletes

A big contingent of Baylor alumni came out to see Johnson, widely regarded as the greatest 400-meter sprinter of all time, as the keynote speaker at May 17’s Second Tuesday Luncheon for the United Way of Metropolitan Dallas’ Ruth Sharp Altshuler Tocqueville Society. And that audience were rewarded with reflections on an athletic (and post-athletic) career that could be immediately applied when they returned to work after lunch.

It’s all about preparation, Johnson said, noting that “there are no do-overs” in a world where you may never get another opportunity to compete. “In the 400 meters, I knew in 43 seconds whether I’ve won a gold medal.

And in his current role as a television commentator, he says he can tell right away which competitors have done everything they can do to be ready for their event.

“It seems simple – you have to run fast, turn left, and get to the finish line first,” he told the crowd.  “But a lot goes on in that time.  You have a strategy you want to execute on, but then you start competing one-on-one and have to make adjustments – maybe three or four in less than a minute.”

Johnson’s remarks drew laughs throughout, but perhaps none bigger than his response to PwC North Texas Managing Partner Scott Moore, who spoke of watching Johnson break the 400-meter world record with a time of 43.18 seconds on YouTube.  Johnson suggested that Moore (and others) would have a better appreciation for the accomplishment if he got out on the track and tried to run the 400.

Johnson gave a lot of credit to his first “real” track coach, Clyde Hart, whose gift he said is understanding each athlete as an individual and getting the best out of him.  His high-school coach at Skyline in Dallas was first and foremost the football team’s defensive coordinator, but he took time to write letters to coaches throughout the country asking them to imagine what Michael could do with a coach who knew something about running.

“Coach Hart would ask if we were doing everything we could to be our best, including doing the things we don’t like to do.  For me, that was stretching and lifting weights,” Johnson told the crowd.

Johnson retired from competition as world-record holder over both 200 and 400 meters; winner of 58 consecutive races over 400 meters between 1990 and 1997; a four-time Olympic Champion (five if you count the gold medal he returned after a teammate on the relay admitted to doping) over three games in Barcelona, Atlanta, and Sydney; and a nine-time World Champion.

Four Bears in one family: Dr. Jerry Hilton 'XX, wife Gracie Hilton 'XX, Jennifer XXXX '92, and Laura Hallmon 'XX
Four Bears in one family at the United Way luncheon: Dr. Jerry Hilton ’67, wife Gracie Hilton ’67, Jennifer Sampson ’92, and Laura Hallmon ’96, JD ’99.

Johnson is currently the president and founder of Michael Johnson Performance, a global leader in sports-performance training with training operations and locations around the world.

Another Baylor Bear — Jennifer Hilton Sampson ’92 — is CEO and President of the United Way of Metropolitan Dallas, and you can learn more about the Tocqueville Society here.

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