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Michael Johnson’s advice for French Olympic favourites – embrace the pressure

He thrived with the dynamic in Atlanta - how will France's triathlon stars fare at Paris 2024?

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Few athletes know more about delivering on the biggest stage of all in front of a home crowd than Michael Johnson.

It Atlanta in 1996, Johnson became the only male athlete to win both the 200m and 400m at the same Olympics, landing the former just three days after the 400m in a world-record time of 19.32 seconds as he blitzed the field in quite stunning style in his trademark golden spikes.

Four years later Cathy Freeman would be the face of the Sydney Games and triathlon had its own example with Alistair Brownlee’s gold in front of epic crowds at London 2012.

And 12 years on in Paris this year, the spotlight will be on a collection of French triathletes.

The French men – including the last two WTCS World Champions Dorian Coninx and Leo Bergere – will be among the big favourites as will Cassandre Beaugrand on the women’s side. So what can they learn from all-time-great Johnson?

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The man with the golden shoes

In an exclusive and in-depth interview with TRI247, Johnson told us: “It increases pressure, it motivates you, it increases expectations – it does all of those things.

“And so it’s really a matter of, in terms of the athletes themselves, it’s how you manage all of that. So it can absolutely serve as a motivator.

“Typically, going into an Olympics, once a country or city becomes a host city, then money increases into those sports programmes, so that allows them to train better, train harder, have access to more resources.

“And then you’re sort of every day reminded when you’re in that city that the Olympics is coming and that becomes a real motivator, that other athletes don’t have – they’ll have the constant billboards and news stories and things about the Olympics coming to Paris, or in my case, the Olympics coming to Atlanta when I was here.”

Michael Johnson in action picture courtesy of PTO
Michael Johnson’s incredible 200m victory in 1996 in Atlanta [Picture courtesy of PTO]

Double-edged sword

But Johnson was also quick to acknowledge the pressure can work in a very different way.

He added: “That can be a real motivator for some athletes, depending on how you handle it. For some athletes, if you’re not able to kind of manage and balance the pressure with the opportunity, because it certainly is an amazing opportunity, then it can be tough.

“I’m not going to say it’s easy. And it’s not all just upside, it can be difficult to manage, so you have to be very careful with that.

“I was a beneficiary of the whole opportunity, that’s where I was focused, and I knew at that point in my career I performed best when I’m under the most pressure.

So I embraced the pressure because I knew how to manage it.

“So I was able to then take the approach that, yes, there’s tremendous amount of pressure, but this is an amazing opportunity and I was only focused on that.”

Beaugrand growing in confidence

Cassandre Beaugrand is one of the French stars who will be in the spotlight and when we chatted to her at the Super League finale in Neom at the end of the season, which she won, she acknowledged the role pressure plays – and how it’s something she’s been working hard on.

Echoing several of Johnson’s points, she told us: “For sure there will be pressure but the French support will also help us a lot.

“I have struggled in the past a bit with stress but I’m feeling more and more comfortable now before races. 

“I’m confident that I can deal with it, so that’s a good thing. So even if I have some stress, I think I’m using it better anyway.”

Cassandre Beaugrand Super League Triathlon Malibu 2023
Cassandre Beaugrand of the Scorpions starred again in Super League (Photo – Super League Triathlon).
Jonathan Turner
Written by
Jonathan Turner
Jonathan Turner is News Director for both TRI247 and RUN247, and is accustomed to big-name interviews, breaking news stories and providing unrivalled coverage for endurance sports.  
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