American legend shares how athletes can change the sport and earn more from it

ATHLETICS American legend shares how athletes can change the sport and earn more from it

Joel Omotto 13:20 - 04.12.2023

The former 200m and 400m world and Olympic record holder has offered an advise to athletes on how they can change the sport for the better after years of earning low amounts

American sprint legend Michael Johnson has advised prominent athletes to lead from the front if they have to change the status of athletics and earn more from it.

Johnson, who has been vocal about the ‘low amounts’ athletes earn from various events, shared how he had to ensure he earned what he deserved against strong resistance and thinks athletes are currently getting the short end of the stick because they do not speak out.

“My first exposure to pro track was Summer 1989 competing in Europe while still a college athlete,” Johnson pointed out on X.

“Remember seeing Carl Lewis treated much better than everyone else. 1990 my first year as a pro I’m the top athlete in the sport. My appearance fee was skyrocketing and I’m being paid literally in cash. Customs was stressful! Had to eventually force meets to wire my funds.”

Johnson then explained how he had to fight to get paid in cash when IAAF (now World Athletics) decided to reward athletes cars for winning at the World Championships.

“1993 IAAF (World Athletics) finally decide to offer a prize for winning World Champs. But not cash. A Mercedes 190 ($30K value). Myself, Butch Reynolds, Mike Powell, Gwen Torrance, and Mike Conley tried to organize a boycott if they didn’t offer cash,” he added.

“Many athletes refused and wanted the car. So, my agent and I negotiated my own deal. After ‘96 I’m a global superstar and meets allow their sponsors kids access to the warmup area to ask me for autographs while I’m warming up and preparing to race.

“Had to ask them to stop it and organize proper autograph sessions for me to meet fans. One meet organizer tried to shame me in the media saying I didn’t appreciate fans.”

The former 200m and 400m world and Olympic record holder went on about how he, Carl Lewis and Usain Bolt forced the sport to change for them to earn what is right, something he feels the current crop of athletes can realize if they speak out strongly.

“My fee kept rising. Meets colluded and agreed none would pay me above $100K. They each violated their own agreement. Carl before me did his own thing, I did mine, and Bolt did his thing,” said Johnson.

“Each of [us] forced the sport to change for us, but neither of us were able to change the sport. Until a critical mass of prominent athletes work together there will be no change.”

Johnson has been a critic of World Athletics and the amounts they pay athletes from various competitions, saying not much has changed since he started running three decades ago.

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