The surname is Johnson and he is a runner, good enough to be named men's athlete of the year by Track and Field News, as well as ranked No. 1 in the world in both the 200 and 400 meters. He is a graduate of Baylor University, plans to work for a graduate business degree and has never been linked with drugs.
Ask 100 people on a street corner the first name of a Johnson who is a runner and the majority no doubt would reply "Ben." In fact, that might be the only answer. But by the time the 1992 Olympics are history, Michael Johnson expects to change that perception.
"I'm not in it for publicity," Johnson said yesterday at a luncheon promoting the Feb. 3 Mobil 1 Invitational at George Mason University, where he will run the 400. "I'm in it for self-achievement, a career. I'm not concerned that Ben gets so much publicity or so much money, although it does seem unfair. His actions have hurt the sport, but I have no comment on his return."
While Ben Johnson was completing a two-year suspension for steroid use, Michael Johnson last summer was racing across uncharted ground. He was unbeaten in six races at 400 meters, clocking a personal best in the last four, and won 13 straight 200-meter finals after a loss to Leroy Burrell in the Southwest Conference championships.
When he was ranked first in both events, he became the first athlete to top the standings in both the 200 and 400 in a career, much less the same year. It was a feat that eluded such greats as Henry Carr, John Smith and Lee Evans.
"It was a great feeling being ranked first in the 200 and 400," Johnson said. "I want to have a good career and a long career, and I want to do some things -- like that -- that have never been done before."
Johnson's immediate goal is to win a gold medal in the world championships in Tokyo in late August. However, since the schedule -- like the one for the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona -- makes a 200-400 double improbable, he must concentrate on one event, and he is unsure which it will be.
"If I made the decision today, of course I'd run the 200," Johnson said. "I like the 200 better and I have more experience in it. But I can't tell what will happen between now and TAC (the U.S. qualifying meet for the world championships). I just started the 400 and I haven't much experience in it, but I feel I have a lot of potential."
Johnson would appear to have a lot of potential in both events. His best 200 time of 19.85 was recorded in 55-degree temperature in Edinburgh, Scotland. Although Johnson says he runs to win, not to set records, he thinks he is capable of running 19.5 under ideal conditions. The world record is 19.72.
Johnson's best 400 time is 44.21, but those who saw the semifinals of the 4x400-meter relay in the 1990 NCAA championships in Durham, N.C., know he is a threat to the world record of 43.29. Merely seeking a qualifying time for Baylor, Johnson came to a virtual stop 30 meters from the finish line and walked across -- with his split a shocking 43.5.
Hampered by injuries in 1988 and 1989, Johnson caught the track world somewhat unawares last year. As a result, European promoters were scrambling to sign him up and there was criticism when he turned up in Barcelona -- for a reported and unconfirmed (he won't comment) $60,000 -- after supposedly being committed to meets in Oslo and Belfast.
"There was a mixup, a failure of communications," Johnson said. "The time before when I was in Europe, nobody knew I was there. I could have skipped a meet and nobody would have cared. They'd probably have said, 'Thank you.' Now, I'm getting a lot of offers and I have to be careful about how many I accept. I don't want to run myself out."
Mobil 1 is one of only three indoor commitments for Johnson, who will run 200 meters in Lievin, France, Jan. 26 and 400 meters in the USA/Mobil indoor championships in New York Feb. 22.
"Indoors is primarily training for me," Johnson said. "This is my first indoor season outside the collegiate schedule and I want to have a good time while I get in some good training. It's going to be a long season and I have to train until August, so it's advantageous to find out at different points in my training where I am. It also breaks up the monotony of training."