Michael Johnson has four Olympic gold medals to his name and is widely viewed as the greatest 400-meter sprinter of all time. (You might also know him as the man with the gold shoes—he raced and won in megawatt gold Nike sneakers in his heyday.) Johnson was on hand at Nike’s Unlimited Innovation in New York City last night, along with the iconic Jackie Joyner Kersee (one of the greatest female all-around athletes in history) and legendary 1992 Olympic Dream Team star basketball player Scottie Pippen, for the unveiling of the athletic gear brand’s new Team U.S.A. Olympic kits including medal stand looks and flashy, brightly colored track shoes.
Johnson, who is headed to Rio de Janeiro this summer on behalf of his Michael Johnson Performance company and BBC, took a few minutes to share some advice for first-time Olympic competitors and the stories he’ll be following closely once things kick off in Brazil.
What advice do you have for everyone competing in Rio? The Olympics are always great no matter where they are because you have the best athletes in the world, at their best, with so much at stake. But then it’s Rio, so be patient. It’s going to be logistically difficult.
What’s the biggest no-no for a first-time Olympian? Don’t change what you’ve been doing and how you prepared. Obviously, if you are at the Olympics, you have had a fair amount of success just getting there. The biggest mistake is to then change that. Keep doing what you’ve been doing because that is what most important.
Thinking back to your first Olympics, how did you calm your nerves? I was definitely nervous, and you want to be nervous, but the key is controlling your nerves. I had to make sure to go through my same preparation like I always did and not think too much about it. If you have a process to get in the zone that you always do, it’s really about duplicating that process. That really helps!
What specific athletes are you most excited to watch in Rio? Everything! That’s the great thing about the Olympics. Every race, every event, every story is significant because someone is going to be the gold medalist and somebody isn’t, and that will change their lives forever. I find myself watching sports at the Olympics that I would never ever watch, ones you couldn’t even pay me to watch normally. For example, I started watching archery at one of the Games and I was just totally glued to it. Totally obsessed. I couldn’t believe it!
Will you be in Rio? Yes, I have a few different jobs. I will be there for BBC and be there for my sports performance company, we work with Nike and other clients, and we will be there with them.
What do you think of the products on display here tonight? A lot of the innovation you see in some of these products is just fantastic. Even over the last four years, a lot has evolved and it’s really amazing stuff.
Your gold shoes are some of the most iconic in history. Tell me about how those came about. We started them about a year-and-a-half before the 1996 Games. I worked with Nike to create something super lightweight - it was the lightest [sneaker] that had ever been made - and one of the final prototypes had a mirror effect. I said I wanted that one and my coach was there at the time and said he didn't like it. He said the mirror effect would be lost and no one would really notice the silver shoe. As soon as he said silver, I said I wanted it to be gold! It had to be gold. They didn't think I was serious. That's how it became gold.