Originally created 02/09/00

Sprinter sets sights on Sydney



NORTH AUGUSTA -- It was one of the few occasions when former North Augusta High track star Michael Johnson wouldn't agree to run.

In the middle of his pursuit of a collegiate track career, Johnson's son Brandon was born. Track immediately took second place to the new edition.

"I couldn't believe it," Johnson said. "I had a little boy and now I had other responsibilities. I had to put everything else aside. I was mainly focusing on getting him straight."

So Clemson, Texas Christian, Louisiana State, South Carolina and West Virginia all would have to wait for the sprinter that accomplished milestones in the junior college ranks for two seasons. Johnson graduated from North Augusta in 1995 and enrolled at Hines Community College in Texas the following school term.

There he would break the junior college record for the 55 meter indoor run in 1997, winning the national junior college sprint in 6.15 seconds. He went on to claim the 100-meter outdoor national title in 1998 when he finished in 10.05 seconds.

He was all set to transfer to run for the Clemson Tigers in the fall of 1998, but with a lack of transferable courses, Johnson would have to attend Aiken Tech until he fulfilled the required number of college hours. Still training rigorously, the setback didn't shatter Johnson's hopes for attaining success in the sport he loves.

Now 22 years old, the former Yellow Jacket is running for the opportunity to compete in this summer's Olympics in Sidney, Australia. The door opened when Johnson told his cousin Otis Johnson that he wanted to run professionally but didn't have anyone to train him.

Otis Johnson contacted his friend, agent George Cleary, who took Johnson's track record to former Stanford coach Brooks Johnson, who was the head coach of the USA Olympic teams in 1976 and 1984. Brooks Johnson, who is not related to Michael Johnson, is now the sprinting coach for this summer's events.

A sprinter must have clocked at least 10.2 seconds in the 100 meter run to gain a berth in the Olympic trials, which will be held July 14-23 in Sacramento, Calif. Since Michael Johnson cleared the required time while at Hines, he was on his way to Orlando, Fla., to train under Brooks Johnson at the Wide World of Sports at Disney World.

Nike sponsors Johnson's practice gear, and Brooks Johnson and George Kersey train the North Augusta native, who moved in with his cousin Otisin August. Former Olympic athletes such as Butch Reynolds, Jon Drummond and Gail Devers also train at the facility.

"It's been great, but it's been tough," Johnson added. "They reworked me from the bottom up when I got here. I never really had great technique, but they've schooled me, and now I'm running even faster. To be training with all of these great runners has been a wonderful experience."

Michael Johnson will get plenty of action before July's trials. He will run in seven meets from March through May. He will travel to Europe for two weeks in June for a meet circuit. Three of his April competitions will be against professionals in the Penn Relays, the Texas Relays and the Mount Sac-Cali Relays.

To qualify for the Olympics in the 100 meter run, Johnson will have to finish in the top six in Sacramento out of a field of hundreds. But even if the sprinter doesn't make the cut, he will be guaranteed a spot as an alternate on the renowned 400 meter relay team. The relay team, which is formed on selection basis and not by qualifying, already has Maurice Green, Tim Harden and Jon Drummond with the fourth member yet to be determined.

Johnson recently came home to celebrate Brandon's first birthday. The 22-year-old never has regretted putting his dreams on hold and was reminded of that when he recently held his 1-year-old baby.

"I couldn't run from that," he said. "His mother (Andrea Turner) has been great through it all. He was the first blessing. The second came when I got the opportunity to realize my dreams. Eventually I want to run professionally, but first I'm trying to make this summer one to remember."

Reach Patrick Green at (803) 648-1395.



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