Michael & Clyde Q&A

From Nanjing, a Q & A with Michael Johnson
Saturday 22 October 2005
Nanjing, China - There are many places around the World where you would expect to meet Michael Johnson, the World record holder at 200 and 400 metres, along with his old coach Clyde Hart, who now coaches World and Olympic Champion Jeremy Wariner. But no one would have ever thought of meeting him in Nanjing where the 10th Chinese National Games are being held.

Then, remembering that four Chinese sprinters were sent to train with them in Waco, Texas, from January to July of this year, the answer to “What are you doing here?” becomes more obvious. Nevertheless…

Coach Clyde Hart with his pupil, World and Olympic champion Jeremy Wariner
(Baylor University Sports Information)

Q: Mr. Johnson, what are you doing in Nanjing?

Johnson: “Since 2004, coach Hart [yes, Johnson still refers to his mentor that way] and I were collaborating with the CAA [Chinese Athletics Association] in order to improve their sprinting. We started doing a training camp in Beijing, back in the summer of 2004, before the Olympics, and then four chinese sprinters were sent to Waco to follow our training methods.”

Adds Hart: “Yes, but we are not their coaches. What we want is to also train their coaches and teach them our training methods. The goal is not just to have stronger athletes, but also coaches that are able to manage them and give them proper training information.”

Q: So it seems that China is really willing to be very strong for the 2008 Olympic Games?

Johnson: “Well, this is difficult to tell, because 2008 is too soon, and there’s not enough time to do major improvements. China has already done alot. A few years ago, they had almost no one in athletics, and now they’ve got two golds from the Olympics. And Liu Xiang is a very consistent athlete and he will be there for a long time. But it’s not easy to find many kids like him around. We are working on it, and that’s why for next year we plan to receive another 10 to 12 athletes in Waco, and more coaches. But we cannot say that this will mean more medals for China at the Beijing Olympics. They have the talent, good physical skills and good potential for the future, but it will take time. The only thing we can talk about now is some interesting improvements for the relays. But what I believe is that the Olympic Games, instead of being a goal, should be a springboard, a starting point for Chinese Athletics.”

Q: So what about the athletes that came to Waco earlier this year?

Johnson: “Well there were four, and each one of them was a different story. The strongest one was Jiang Bo, but while he was staying with us he had many problems with his knee. Then there’s a 400 runner that in our opinion, he should be running the 800. But it’s up to him to make that decision. And there’s an 18-year-old kid, Hu Cheng Jing, who made amazing improvements while he was with us and I believe he can do much better.”

Q: What method are you using for them? Do they train together with the champions?

Hart: “Well, we use for them the same training plan that we use for Wariner and all of our athletes, but they do not train together at the same time. It would make no sense as their training level is still so different.”

Q: And how about the language problem? Isn’t comunication a big problem for training?

Johnson: “Well, with good interpreters we can avoid to see that as a big problem. And also coach Hart is learning a bit of Chinese [Laughs], and for now I think we should focus on other problems. In the future we will see what happens. Now, the Chinese athletes are still not at a level to go around the world alone. And when they are, like Liu Xiang, they have people taking care of that problem. But yes, I think they need to learn English as it’s the worldwide spoken language. But this is a problem that regards all young Chinese, not just athletes. In any case, for next year, in the training program we will do with them, we will also add English classes with university teachers.”

Francesco Liello for the IAAF