“I’m really crass,” Johnson said, “and she’s really sophisticated.”
Muhammad, Johnson said, brought a lunch pail approach to the track that did not waver after her win at the Olympics.
“We’ll have these intellectual conversations about the width of the track, whether there’s wind on Turn 1 or Turn 2,” Johnson said. “We plan for all these things that may be a deciding factor. Most athletes aren’t having those conversations.”
At the same time, Muhammad has discovered that the view from the very top is different. For so long, her career had been a slow, methodical climb. Motivation was easy to come by, she said, because she always had more to learn and achieve. Even after she won Olympic gold, the world record was out there to claim.
True to form, Johnson nitpicked Muhammad’s technique after she broke the world record in a time of 52.20 seconds this summer: She was slow out of the blocks, he noted, and chopped her steps before the eighth hurdle. There was room for improvement. Muhammad said she knew Johnson was guarding against complacency. But she also thought it was funny.
“You run a world record,” she said, “and then you talk about all these things that went wrong.”
There was a letdown, too, when she and Johnson went to Zurich for the Diamond League final in August. Johnson recalled how Muhammad confided in him as she made her way to the track.
“I’m going to say something you don’t want to hear,” she told him. “I don’t feel anything. I’m not nervous. I’m not anxious. I just don’t feel anything.”
Johnson understood that she was drained, he said. He was tired, too.
“It was like dragging someone to the start line,” he said.