Tuesday, August 15

Into the Danger Zone

With a race looming, my thoughts go to mental preparation: what's the best way to get wound up, but without over-doing it?

Should I go into a Zen-like trance, or stay relaxed and chatty; or go cold, seething and furious, like Olympic champion Peter Snell was said to do?

I just found out how Michael Johnson (above) handles it. The world's greatest runner ever over 200 and 400 meters, five times Olympic champion, nine times world champion, had this to say in an interview with former team-mate Todd Copeland:

"You're famous for your stare, or scowl, when get on the track and right before you get in the blocks. I've read that mindset sometimes starts the night before a race. You get into the "danger zone." Could you tell me what that mindset means to you. How do you use it? Is it something you work on?

MJ: That whole thing started in 1992 at the Olympic Trials when I faced my first really tough and difficult assignment, running in lane eight in the 200. Carl Lewis is just talking all kinds of crap, saying I'm not going to make the Olympic team. Basically, I knew that at that point I needed to get into a mindset where I'm so focused on running 200 meters as best as I can and not thinking about what Carl is saying, not thinking about the fact I'm a heavy favorite and I've got Mike Marsh running fast now and Carl is talking all of this stuff and on top of that I've been dealt lane eight. I need to get myself into a tunnel-vision mindset where I look at this and go, "Hey, it's 200 meters whether it's lane one, lane three, or lane eight, and I run 200 meters better than anyone else out here on this track."
It just happened where somebody after the semifinals - Carl's talking a lot of noise, and one of the reporters asked me about it. And I was like, "Hey, I'm in the danger zone."
That has always been a position for me where, basically, I just focus on what I've got to do at that point instead of thinking about what's going to happen if I lose this race, what are they going to say, what are the headlines going to say tomorrow after the race?

Just total concentration.

MJ: Yeah, just total focus on what has to be done over the next nineteen seconds.

Eliminating the whole world except for me and my lane.

MJ: Exactly. It starts usually when I go out to the track to start my warm-up because I need to be thinking. It's a very difficult thing to go out and sprint. People think it's easy, but it's not easy to do it well. It's not like when the gun goes off you just start running as fast and as hard as you can. There are different strategies involved. You've got a lot of zones to go through. You've got to concentrate on trying not to make a mistake. You're trying to make your body do something that's really not very natural. You've got to focus on that and think about that."

Found at Todd Copeland's Unofficial Michael Johnson Page. (now offline)

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