Q&A: Michael Johnson

With four Olympic gold medals, eight World Champs medals and the 400m world record, Michael Johnson has had a hell of a career. Now, he's turning his hand to helping young people across the globe fulfil their potential through sport with his new charity initiative Positive Track. Johnson has personally selected 12 extraordinary young sportspeople from countries including the UK, Nepal, Kenya and Cambodia, who Positive Track will work with to develop their skills, confidence and resources so they can make a difference in their community.

What made you set up Positive Track?

It’s something I've wanted to do since my retirement from sport. I’ve been involved with a couple of different charity projects using sport for change. The organisations are doing great work bringing folk out of dire situations. The one thing I saw was that some of these people in these projects actually have the power to be leaders. That’s why I started Positive Track, to give those young people who have a passion for sport a chance to be leaders in their community, whether they go back and start a sport for change programme, become a coach and inspire people through sport, or chase their dream of becoming a world calibre athlete.

How did you select the 12 young people for this year's Positive Track programme?

We had three basic criteria: sporting performance, leadership skills and work in their respective communities. All of them started with no resources and used grit and determination to bring about change. We’ve got a very varied group of people from around the world so we have a diverse group geographically, but they differ in terms of their backgrounds as well. You read about their backgrounds and in many cases they have no reason to be hopeful, but they have developed programmes for others to give them hope.

It’s not someone like me who’s flown in for a day who changes things, it’s someone who grew up there, looks and feels just like them, who can be the ultimate role model. We have the ability and resources through MJ Performance [Johnson's training academy] where we develop training programmes for athletes all around the world, to provide coaching education for those who want to be coaches back in their community.

Now you've retired from the track, what do you do for fitness?

Now I'm a typical individual, so it's a typical routine. I maybe go on the rowing machine, go to the gym to do strength work, go on a treadmill - it's very unimpressive. I try to get four days in a week, but it's usually more like three when I'm on the go. It's what I have time for.

What do you eat in a typical day?

You name it! Again, it's unimpressive. People have this idea that once an Olympian, always an Olympian. Maybe it's just unique to me, but we don't continue to have this impressive fitness and diet regime because that is part of the job, that's training. I've been there, done that for 10 years.

Rio 2016 is fast approaching. Do you have any predictions?

No, I’m not in the prediction business. You’ll have all the best athletes, and the best thing abut the Olympics is there’ll be people who aren’t on anyone's radar who’ll win medals and favourites who won’t win anything at all. The competition will be fantastic.

Which event are you most looking forward to watching?

You know, that is the most often asked question and I don’t have an answer other than all of it. I find myself watching sports during the Olympics I never would watch because it’s not just about the sport - it’s about the personal journey of the athletes. They've put everything into this. Most athletes will never make it back to the Olympics so when I'm at the games, I try to catch everything that I possibly can.

The last year has seen the explosion of the athletics doping scandal, from the allegations against the Nike Oregon Project to the corruption in the All-Russia Athletics Federation. What do you think about the current state of doping in track and field?

To be completely honest with you, if you look at my history, I’ve never shied away from a question but at this point I have absolutely no idea where this is going to go. And that in itself shows just how bad it is.

Obviously, I was disappointed with all of the things that have been revealed over the last year. I think you won’t find anyone involved in the sport who’ll have a different view to that. Everyone would say they’re disappointed.