Michael Johnson has called Usain Bolt ‘the greatest’ and the four-time Olympic gold medallist is backing the Jamaican to star in Rio De Janeiro but also at this year’s Laureus World Sports Awards. Johnson says Bolt deserves his nomination but it could have easily gone the other way this time around: ‘To be honest last year wasn’t one of his best years, when you look at it in comparison to some of his previous years. There is no doubt about it, he is a special athlete and he deserves to be here because of what he did last year, but he wasn’t in the best shape and had the most competition that we’ve ever seen and the fact that Justin Gatlin was having a great season, but he was still able to pull out a victory even though he wasn’t at his best. That was the one thing about last year for him, what made it special and why he deserved to be here. It’s easy to win when you’re the best and you’re in the best shape. He showed that he can win when he’s not at his best and when he has a real challenger. That was impressive.’
The Laureus Sportsman of the Year award seems to be the preserve of individual sportsman. Johnson says that it could be easier for individuals rather than players in a team environment: ‘I think the team sport athletes have a little bit of a disadvantage, but when I vote I try to look at the individual performance in the context of their sport and not compare necessarily one athlete to the other. One of the things about being a team athlete is making those around you better, and that’s what Stephen Curry does and that’s what Lionel Messi does. In the same context you take a Lewis Hamilton and we know that you have a guy like that who is considered an individual sport athlete, but it takes a lot of other people around him to get that car ready.’
Outside of the Berlin awards, Johnson says it will be difficult to stop Bolt in Rio: ‘If he’s healthy, I don’t think that anyone can stop him. He’s proven that last year when he wasn’t at his best and it was very competitive, but he was still able to go into the races and produce the best performances he could, and so given that, and that he’s a little older going into Rio, injuries are always going to be a problem and trying to stay healthy becomes more difficult.’ Johnson says that if Bolt wins the 100 metre gold medal, it will be difficult to look elsewhere when talking about the greatest: ‘There may be somebody that will come along. You think of the great sprinters of the past who have done things that have never been done before like Jesse Owens, winning four gold medals, and Carl Lewis, doing that as well, and myself being the 200 metres and 400 metres world record holder and Olympic champion. So those are the names that you think of, the amazing sprinters of the past. But none of us has produced, in my opinion, the consistency and longevity that Bolt has and so to this point he has to be considered the greatest.’
Johnson was talking to Laureus ahead of the World Sports Awards.
Photo credit: WESSEL OOSTHUIZEN / SASPA