Four times Olympic gold medal-winner Michael Johnson is widely regarded to be one of the most successful athletes of all time and surely one of the greatest Olympians.
At the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, he became the first man to achieve an unprecedented double of gold in the 200 metres and 400 metres at the same Games, setting World and Olympic records in the process.
Three years later at the World Championships in Seville, he ran the 400 metres in 43.18 seconds, a superlative performance and a world record that still stands to this day. By the time Johnson retired from athletics in 2001, he had amassed a total of thirteen Olympic and World Championship gold medals.
By the time Johnson retired from athletics in 2001, he had amassed a total of thirteen Olympic and World Championship gold medals.
On the track, Michael Johnson was known for his intense focus and consistent ability to perform under pressure. Indeed, he believes his psychological approach to competition was a key factor in his success.
‘The mind is absolutely instrumental in achieving results. I trained my mind to be able to be disciplined and execute a strategy prior to a race, just like I trained by body.’
When attempting historic feats – watched by television audiences, sometimes numbering into the billions – Johnson was able to use pressure as a way of bringing out his best performances.
‘Pressure’ he has remarked ‘is nothing more than the shadow of great opportunity.’
The mind is absolutely instrumental in achieving results.
Scrupulous planning and exacting preparation were hallmarks of Johnson’s approach and he still believes they are methods which help him achieve his goals in everyday life.
‘Making sure that you fully understand the situation before you go into it and preparing for all types of potential scenarios helps athletes, but can also help people in everyday life.’
Since his retirement from the track, Johnson has established himself as a highly-regarded performance coach and analyst, working with Olympic athletes, Premier football clubs and F1 motor-racing teams. British audiences may recognise him as the BBC's expert commentator for their athletics coverage.
About ‘Can you compete under pressure?’ Johnson said
‘The performance data will help scientists understand more about the way all of us react under pressure. I think the results will tell us that people can improve their ability to deal with pressure.’
Investigate the science behind the experiment and the answers the scientists are seeking.
Got questions about the test? Read these helpful answers.
Discover the scientists and the instruments behind the experiment.
Find out about the legendary Olympic sprinter and how psychology helped him.