Michael Johnson competes at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games (© Getty Images)
To mark the 226th World Athletics Council Meeting in Monaco, a special Heritage display was staged this week in the foyer of Le Meridien Beach Plaza. The exhibit contained 15 recent acquisitions made by the World Athletics Heritage Collection, which will soon be on display in glorious 3D in the virtual Museum of World Athletics (MOWA).
One of the oldest artefacts exhibited was a solid silver trophy donated by Kenya’s Olympic legend Kipchoge Keino, and one of the youngest items on show was a Tokyo 2020 Olympic Torch.
Yet arguably the greatest recent addition to the collection are three running spikes worn by eight-time world champion and four-time Olympic Games gold medallist Michael Johnson.
Entering the collection is one of Johnson’s iconic gold spikes from Atlanta 1996 (right foot), one from Sydney 2000 (left foot), and thirdly, a shoe from Johnson’s final race in 2001 (right foot). Each shoe is autographed.
“I can still vividly remember the chills I felt…”
The trio now form part of the World Athletics Heritage Collection thanks the extraordinary generosity of Brad Hunt, who was Johnson’s agent during his outstanding running career.
“I visited the Heritage exhibition while at the 2019 World Athletics Championships in Doha,” commented Hunt. “The scale of the collection was particularly impressive, considering it had only been created in 2018.
“The historic display of artefacts included items from the careers of Jesse Owens, Carl Lewis and Usain Bolt. In men’s sprinting history, there was one glaring omission. By offering the spikes which Michael (Johnson) gave me after some of his most memorable races, I hope to have helped fill that gap in the World Athletics Heritage Collection,” added Hunt.
Johnson stunned the world of sport in 1996. At the Atlanta Games he won an unprecedented Olympic men’s 200m and 400m double. In the process, with a 19.32 clocking, Johnson destroyed his own 200m world record (19.66) which he had set less than two months before the Games on the same track at the US Olympic Trials.
“Both Olympic shoes were given to me two or three weeks following the Games they were used in,” confirmed Hunt. “The 1996 shoe was given to me in Hawaii, where we travelled for our post-Olympic celebrations. The 2000 shoe was given to me in Los Angeles.
“I can still vividly remember the chills I felt when I became the first person Michael told of his decision to wear gold spikes in the 1996 Olympic Games. We were sitting on a flight to Los Angeles from the Atlanta Olympic Trials to Los Angeles for Michael's first appearance on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.
“Michael had just set his first world record (19.66 200m) the day before (23 June). We were discussing how much attention his purple spikes had received when he declared he would be wearing gold in the Games.”
14c gold in the material
Four years later, Johnson retained his Olympic 400m title in Sydney, Australia. Johnson had become world record-holder for the distance (43.18) at the World Championships in Seville, Spain, the previous year.
“Although the 2000 shoe is made with actual 14c gold in the material, thus making them shinier (with significantly more material value), the 1996 shoe is my favourite because these gold shoes were an actual media phenomenon!
“The amount of secrecy involved with the shoes' clandestine development and historical Olympic debut created one of the strongest identities an athlete has ever had with his or her footwear,” concluded Hunt.
The following year Johnson undertook his ‘Golden Victory Lap’ tour, finishing his career at the Goodwill Games in Brisbane. It is one of the shoes which he wore in that last season which completes this extra special induction of footwear into the World Athletics Heritage Collection.
The three spikes will soon be on display in the virtual MOWA.
In 2022, the spikes will also go on public show at MOWA’s onsite public exhibitions in Portland and Oregon, USA, in the lead into and during the World Athletics Championships Oregon22.
Chris Turner for World Athletics Heritage