For those who are not quite old enough to remember, in 1996 there were two MJs competing for the mantle of America's most beloved athlete. One, Michael Jordan (he of the Air Jordan Nike sneakers) was leading the Chicago Bulls to an NBA record 72 wins and an NBA title. The other, Michael Johnson (he of the glistening golden Nike cleats) became the first sprinter in history to win both the 200 and 400 meters at the same Olympics.
Of the two, Johnson, a 1990 graduate of Baylor, was the one who graced the cover of Time magazine, not once… but twice that year.
Growing up though, Johnson said his parents made one thing clear from an early age – and it had nothing to do with track.
"In my family, we didn't have a lot. My parents' position was – you have to go to college. 'We don't have money to pay for it,' they said, 'so you are going to have to work and put yourself through college.' That was their expectation and that's what my four siblings did. I was fortunate that I got a scholarship and that I was able to go to Baylor University, which I wouldn't have been able to go to otherwise.
"For me, on so many different levels, it was a great opportunity," he said. "I was going to get an amazing education, I wasn't going to have to pay for it and I was going to realize my dream of running track at the college level. I always knew that regardless of whether I got the scholarship and went to Baylor or took the path that my siblings did, that I was going to study business. That's part of the reason I chose Baylor, because of their business school."
Johnson's success as a sprinter is legendary. He won four Olympic gold medals and another eight golds at the World Championships. He set world records in the 200, 300 and 400 meters and starred in a series of Nike television spots that declared him "The World's Fastest Man."
Through it all, though, Johnson kept his eye towards his career finish line, and knew his Baylor education would help prepare him for his second act.
"Entrepreneurship was always in me and I always knew I'd start my own company," said Johnson, now 48, who in 2010 gave a glimpse of his business acumen as a participant on NBC's Celebrity Apprentice. "Michael Johnson Performance was started nine years ago. We are focused on allowing athletes to reach their potential as athletes. We train athletes in every sport you can imagine."
Michael Johnson Performance employs trainers in countries as far-flung as China, Brazil and Trinidad and Tobago, each with the goal of helping elite athletes reach their maximum performance. Johnson himself works directly with EPL stalwart Arsenal to assist in the development of its young athletes.
Being his own boss has also allowed Johnson time to cultivate another love – broadcasting. "I'm very proud of my broadcast career," he said. "I started actually before I even retired form track. I worked very closely with NBC at the 1996 Olympics, allowing them to follow me through the games from start to finish. I developed a close relationship with the producers and they asked me to come into the studio and start doing some broadcasting. I really enjoyed it."
Much like in America, where Olympic junkies have become accustomed to Bob Costas ushering them in and out of coverage, citizens of the U.K. feel equally at ease tuning into the BBC and seeing Johnson's analysis. He's also taken up writing, penning a regular column for London's Daily Telegraph.
But even as his international appeal continues to burn brightly, Johnson still has a warm spot for Waco. "I get back to campus a few times a year," he said. "My coach, Clyde Hart (director of track and field at Baylor), is like a second father to me. I spend a lot of time with him. I'm very close to that program and I try to help them when I can.
"It's a fantastic time to be a Baylor Bear."