Oakmont: Four-times world champion and 1996 Olympic gold medalist Allen Johnson called an end to his remarkable sprint hurdling career Saturday after years of defying his age in one of track’s most demanding disciplines.
Johnson, who ended Briton Colin Jackson’s run of 44 consecutive sprint hurdles victories in 1995 and went on to dominate the event, said his 39-year-old body would not allow him to continue competing in the sport he dearly loved.
“It’s just come to the point where my body can’t take it any more,” Johnson told the crowd at the Diamond League meeting in Gateshead, England, in a trackside interview.
USA Track and Field chief Doug Logan told Reuters in an e-mail: “Allen Johnson is an inspiration for competition as lifelong pursuit.
“Allen embodies all the qualities you could ask for from a champion. Above all, he conducted himself with class, on and off the track.”
Johnson, who in 2008 won silver over 60 metres at the world indoor championships in Valencia, had time and again battled back from injury to return to competition.
“My daughter was almost four years old when I won in Atlanta in 1996, now she is graduating high school,” Johnson told Reuters in an interview last month, in which he stressed that his hunger to compete was still there.
“The thing about getting older is the injuries,” said Johnson, who set his personal best of 12.92 seconds in 1996.
“You just get injured more often. You take time off, you come back, you get injured again and you never get in shape.”
Age Catches Up
After his break-through victory over Jackson, Johnson won the world indoor 60 metres hurdles title in Barcelona and the 110 metres gold in the Gothenburg world championships the same year.
Johnson went on to win Olympic gold after missing the world record by a hundredth of a second at national trials.
He followed up with another high hurdles gold at the 1997 world championships in Athens before injuries set him back in 1999 and in 2000.
But Johnson returned to his best at the 2001 and 2003 world outdoor championships in Edmonton and Paris, claiming his third and fourth world titles.
In 2003 and 2004, the American emulated his world indoor success in Barcelona with gold in Birmingham and then Budapest over 60 metres.
The win in Hungary was to be Johnson’s last major victory but the American remained competitive for years to come, clinching third in the 110 metres hurdles at the 2005 world championships in Helsinki and capping his resume with the indoor silver over 60 metres in 2008.
In his signature 110 metres hurdles last year, Johnson ranked among the world’s top 40 with a best of 13.43 seconds.
The Washington DC native had been due to compete in an event in Glasgow last Wednesday but pulled up in the warmup in Gateshead.
“Maybe I can coach some hurdlers or some sprinters ... give something back,” he said. “I’m going to miss it, I really am, but it was fun.”