They are the Champions – ‘Gold Rush’ by Michael Johnson

With Great Britain taking three golds in the Olympic Stadium this weekend, there could hardly have been a better time to be reading Michael Johnson’s Gold Rush. As one the greatest Olympians of all time he is ideally placed to offer an insight into what makes an Olympic champion.  The short answer is talent and hard work.

For this book Johnson draws on his own experience and interviews with other great Olympic gold medallists.  Usain Bolt, Nadia Commenic and Ian Thorpe all contribute, as do British legends Chris Hoy, Steve Redgrave and Rebecca Addlington.

Perhaps the best thing about ‘Gold Rush’, is that as you read, you can hear Johnson’s authoritative baritone telling you his experiences. The calm and unsensational delivery that makes him such an assured pundit on television, sets the tone for the book.  Johnson is a man who knows about being an elite athlete.  The book’s opening chapters deal mainly with Johnson’s early career and the trials and tribulations up until he won double gold in Atlanta. After that he goes on to talk about remaining focused, coping with the pressures of fame and the temptations of performance enhancing substances (and his abhorrence of them).

The book does have a flaw, and it’s one that mirrors elite sport.  It’s repetitive.  Much as athlete training consists of endless repeats of training routines, Johnson’s book repeats the same mantras over and over again.  Focus, strategy, execute, these words turn up again and again.  We hear endlessly about Michael’s training programmes, and frankly they are only interesting to read about once.  Everybody knows that reaching the pinnacle of a sport is about so much more than talent these days; we’ve all seen the video montages of rowers exhaling their own lungs as they prepare for the games. Repetition is the nature of the beast and Johnson can be forgiven for falling victim to it in his book.  Less forgivable is his continual mentioning of his company Michael Johnson Performance.  It all starts to sound like a desperate plug.

It’s probably my personality type, but I found the human elements of the book to be the most satisfying. The chapters on cheating and fame are strong, probably because Michael is so passionate about them. All in all this is an interesting book.  It details the sheer volume of preparation that goes into competing for an Olympic Medal (for example Michael had two different hotels booked during the Sydney games) and the lengths athletes go to to make sure everything is right.

At a time when we are being wowed by superlative performances in every Olympic event, Johnson’s book is a timely reminder of the hard work and commitment that goes into every single one.  There is little in this book that will shock or surprise you, but it is a passionate yet understated appraisal of what makes an Olympian.

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