Track great Michael Johnson aims to promote active lifestyle in Abu Dhabi

American sprint legend in UAE capital to highlight importance of fitness

Track legend Michael Johnson with Talal Al Hashemi, Abu Dhabi Sports Council’s executive director of sports development sector during the ISPAH Congress. Photo: Abu Dhabi Sports Council
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Michael Johnson is one of the greatest track and field athletes to ever grace the sport, with four Olympic and eight World Championship golds next to his name.

But even for gifted elite athletes like Johnson, the pursuit of glory began with passion for running and being physically fit.

And it is that desire to be healthy and active that Johnson is hoping to instill in others.

The American track legend met members of the community in Abu Dhabi on Monday as part of a panel discussion for the "One Billion Steps Challenge" at the ninth International Society for Physical Activity and Health Congress at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre.

Johnson, 55, discussed the importance of regular physical activity at the three-day event hosted by the Department of Health and Abu Dhabi Public Health Centre. It is the region’s first dedicated establishment for the physical, mental and social wellbeing of Abu Dhabi’s population.

“Sport is a passion of mine where regular physical activity and exercise were instrumental to my athletics career. So I’m delighted to be attending the congress and to share my knowledge to engage people and explain the benefits,” Johnson told The National.

“My role is trying to help the communities, organisers and policy makers on how to help people to get active and how to integrate the programme to them.

“Motivation is a big part of that and my role is how to get them understand and how do you get people motivated.

“People do things that they are motivated to do and if they are not motivated to do it, especially when it’s difficult things like workouts and exercising."

The "One Billion Steps Challenge" aims to bring together thousands of people across local communities and encourage them to be more active.

“It’s an excellent initiative that will bring people of all ages and abilities together in working towards the same goal before and during the congress and I’m delighted to be contributing to help achieve this target,” Johnson said.

“It’s an ambitious target but not impossible, so I encourage everyone to join me in this challenge and be part of this fun and enjoyable activity.”

Johnson is associated with athletics in another capacity. The American Athletic Hall of Famer founded the Michael Johnson Performance centre in Texas – a training facility for young and professional athletes in all sports.

There, as well, the emphasis is on wholistic development.

“We don’t do much direct training of the athletes anymore. But we do a lot of consultancy work with sports teams, Olympic federations and providing educational programmes for coaches around the globe,” Johnson said of the training centre.

“We had lots of athletes who ended up in the NFL, NBA, Major League and the Olympics but, most importantly for us, even the ones who couldn’t make it as professionals in their sports are still active [in the discipline].”

Updated: October 25, 2022, 2:25 PM