The Man with the Golden Shoes

Updated August 5, 2020 | Infoplease Staff

Michael Johnson sets the pace in 1996

by John Gettings
Michael Johnson

Michael Johnson at the Atlanta Olympic Games. (Source: AP)

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On August 1, 1996, the night United States track star Michael Johnson made Olympic history, it wasn't just what he did that was amazing, it was how fast he did it.

The Second Coming of Jesse Owens

But first Johnson's record needs some background. Already labeled the second coming of Jesse Owens, Johnson was in position to win medals in the 200-meter race and the 4x400 relay at the Barcelona Games in 1992. And while he won a gold medal for his relay performance, a bout of food poisoning kept him out of the 200m finals. He vowed that he'd be back.

At the centennial Atlanta Games, Johnson logged a performance that only the Ancient Greeks could appreciate. On Day 11, Johnson put on a burst and breezed in the 400-meter race, winning in an Olympic-record 43.49 seconds, then tossed his gold shoes into the crowd.

The 400 race left Johnson sore. The following morning he decided he would not run the relay, focusing instead on the 200.

Those Golden Shoes

Donning another pair of golden shoes on Day 14, Johnson put on an astounding burst of speed and won the 200 meters in a jaw-dropping, world-record time of 19.32 seconds. He became the first man to win the 200 and 400 in the same Olympics and took 0.34 seconds off his own 200 world record, which he set two months earlier on the same track at the Olympic trials.

"It still hasn't quite sunk in," Johnson told USA Today's Dick Patrick. "When I saw 19.32 seconds on the clock, I couldn't believe it. I felt like I was one of the 85,000 fans in the stadium. I'm a track fan. I would like to have watched that myself."

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