Johnson appears relaxed, happy and fit as he updates us on the hamstring strain that brought a dramatic end to his duel at 200 m with his in-your-face rival Maurice Greene at the Olympic trials. On July 23, Johnson shut down early in the race and Greene pulled up shortly after, two drag racers coming apart at high speed. So neither will compete in the 200 at Sydney, though both will be present and half accounted for. Johnson will run his signature 400, while Greene lays claim to being the fastest man alive at 100 m.
Even without the 200, Johnson will be doing a double of sorts--as a journalist. He is being promoted by Quokkasports and NBC as a "wired athlete." He has worn speed and heart-rate monitors at meets, sending data out over the Web (at 50 m, 141 beats/min., 18.3 m.p.h.). And at michaeljohnson.org, he addresses a perceived need for "unfiltered, uncensored information from me. The fans get more than enough through you guys." While he won't be wearing the gizmos at Sydney, he will report in. "I'll do daily updates," he says. "I'll be wired through the Web."
Johnson says he's "pretty much full blast" again after the injury and plans to compete three times before the Games. What returned this 32-year-old so quickly to fine fettle? A regimen of deep-tissue massage and other therapy that is much different from what weekend warriors might do to cure a muscle: "For a week I had ultrasound two or three times a day, then I'm sitting on a table with someone digging into a muscle that's already sore as hell, breaking up fluid that's in there from the trauma. Not much fun."
But it worked, and Johnson is ready to defend an Olympic title that he won in 1996 by blowing away the 400 field. Expect a repeat, says Craig Masback, head of USA Track & Field: "If Michael's healthy, the 400's not a contested event. The only question is whether Michael feels a need to, or has an interest in, setting a record."
Johnson, who already holds the world marks at 200 and 400, is certainly eager to burnish his reputation as perhaps the greatest sprinter ever, but admits this is a very different Olympics for him. He is not the focus of attention, for one thing. "Doubling is a lot--a lot--of pressure," he says. "I was considering not running the 200 even if I qualified. I'm always put in a kind of showdown in the 200, and I'd gotten tired of that. I'm a lot more relaxed going to Sydney the way it is." Heading into Atlanta, Johnson demanded attention--"I want all eyes on me." This year he's content to cede the eyeballs to Marion Jones, while he "tries to have some fun" with his family--wife Kerry and three-month-old son Sebastian.
He has always seen himself as a split-personality sprinter. There's 200 Michael, who puts a hoop in his ear, turns the hip-hop up and gets into trash-talk wars with the very willing Greene. Then there's 400 Michael, who listens to jazz before a race and spends evenings answering e-mail from fans. With Mr. Hyde now sidelined, mellow Dr. Jekyll will have extra time in Sydney at his keyboard.