How long did Michael Johnson hold the 400-metre world record?
Michael Johnson was the preeminent figure in athletics in the Nineties and, such was his domination of the 400-metre event, arguably the greatest runner ever to compete at that distance.
In the 400-metre final at the World Athletics Championships at the Estadio Olímpico in Seville, Spain on August 26, 1999, Johnson produced a new world record time of 43.18 seconds.
In so doing, he beat the previous best, 43.29 seconds, set by fellow American Harry Lee Reynolds Jr., popularly known as ‘Butch’ Reynolds, in Zürich, Switzerland on August 17, 1988. Reynolds’ record was a significant improvement on the previous mark, 43.86 seconds, set by compatriot Lee Evans at the Mexico City Olympics on October 18, 1968; Evans’ record was set at an altitude of 7,349 feet and annotated as such in some record books, but nevertheless stood for nearly twenty years.
Achieved at low altitude – Seville is just 23 feet above sea level on average – Johnson’s record did not stand for quite so long, but it was not until August 14, 2016, nearly 17 years later, that is was finally broken. In the 400-metre final at the Rio de Janiero Olympics on August 14, 2016, South African Wayde van Niekerk won the gold medal in a new world record time of 43.03 seconds, 0.15 seconds faster than Johnson. Johnson described the result as ‘a massacre’ and speculated that van Niekerk, aged just 24 at the time, might be able to achieve what he could not by running 400 metres in less than 43 seconds.