As of 2012, Johnny Gray holds the outdoor and indoor U.S. 800-meter records. He ran a career-best 1:42.60 outdoors in 1985, and 1:45.00 indoors in 1992. He earned an Olympic 800-meter bronze medal in 1992 and was inducted into the USA Track and Field Hall of Fame in 2008. He discussed his career while attending the 2012 Michigan Interscholastic Track Coaches Association clinic.
Does an aggressive 800 runner have a different mindset then one who lays back?:
“Not really. You prepare yourself for that. … Executing, positive self-talk, trusting in your shape, not listening to negative chatter, all that stuff plays a part in your growth and your mental aspect to building your confidence, to where you’re able to do something you’ve never done before. Champions are willing to do what those not willing to be champions aren’t willing to do. So basically, I go out and try different things to get different results. … If I want to run faster I’ve got to do something different. So, number one, I started coming to practice more, because when I was younger I used to miss a lot of practice, and that’s what made my running so difficult, because I wasn’t prepared, so I started preparing myself the right way. Then once I started preparing myself the right way, through that preparation I started getting more confidence, because I started realizing what I was capable of doing, so I wasn’t afraid to try certain things because I knew that I was able to do it. And by doing that, made me start going faster.”
Does an athlete’s mindset change on Olympic stage?:
“It can change; it tries. Because that’s a big stage. And when it’s your first time up on that big stage, that’s what you’re fighting against. Sometimes you make it to the big stage and you’re satisfied and you get there and you’re not going to execute because you (think), ‘I did it. I’m in the Olympics. I don’t need to win. I can’t win. But I’m here, so I’m happy.’ So you kind of just don’t care. But then after you don’t execute, and do what you do, you feel like, ‘Hey, I should’ve done better.’ And then you say, ‘If I get another chance I’m going to go out and I’m going to do it right.’ Then you get a second chance and then you try to execute and you do it right. (But) some people don’t get the second chance.
What stands out from the 1992 Olympics?:
“It was a great experience. I liked the way I performed, because of what I was (dealing with). I mean, we had four rounds. I had a fever the night before the finals and I didn’t think I was going to be able to run. And the coach said, ‘Just go and line up and just get your day in the sun, there’s nothing you can do about it.’ I line up and I went for it. I went out 50-point, felt OK but I was still under the weather, but I held up. I got tripped with 150 to go – accidentally or maybe on purpose, I don’t know – but I didn’t falter. Normally, just because of the circumstances I would’ve just given up and went all the way back to ninth place and just came in last. But I fought all the way to the tape with the Kenyans and I ran a 1:43.97 and I got a bronze medal. But that bronze was like a gold because of the competition – I gave it my best. And my coach used to say, ‘Winners don’t always come in first place.’ And that was a time that I didn’t win but I felt like I came in first place because I had a wonderful year that year and I was competing against the world’s best. I was taking on all challenges. I wasn’t afraid of it. My head was on right that year.”
What was the greatest satisfaction you received from your running career?:
“The greatest satisfaction from my running career was when I was inducted into the Hall of Fame. Because as a runner, they put on a pedestal all these runners like Carl Lewis – which, they deserve to be there – mostly the sprinters. And for some reason I didn’t feel like they were giving me my respect. ... I thought I would never make the Hall of Fame. … So I was just happy to have a great season. And then I got that letter, that I was about to be inducted...
“And when I got up on that stage my speech exemplified ... that I was proud to be standing at that podium, and to be there and making it there through my hard work. Because I could’ve easily cheated. Because I had friends that I knew who were cheating, and they were telling me, ‘Johnny you need to be taking what I’m taking and you’ll be the first man to break 1:40.’ I could’ve easily sold my soul. You know how easy that is to do? If someone’s telling you that they’re taking something and you’re running against them and they’re not getting caught – ‘Hey, what are you taking? How do I do it?’ I could’ve easily said that, and I could’ve made, probably, a lot of money. But my coach (Merle McGee), who was a great man, said to me – because before I do anything I say something to my coach – I said, ‘Coach, what do you think about me taking steroids, because Billy Konchellah said he was on this drug and he said if I took it I could be the first man to break 1:40.’ My coach said, ‘Johnny, you’re running 1:42 off this hard work. So, do you need to take drugs?’ He said, ‘They need to take drugs to run with you. You don’t need to take drugs to run with them. So why would you put a bad mark on all the things you’ve accomplished, by taking drugs? It’d be your luck, you’ll take that drug and get drug-tested and get caught. And then everything you’ve accomplished on hard work will be wiped clean and everybody will think that’s all you did your whole career.’ And I thought about it and I said, ‘That’s right.’ So I just continued to do what was working for me, and God saw me through. I got my props. People respect me for what I did. I’m a Hall of Famer, I’ve got my (Olympic) medal, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. And I’d do it the same way if I had to do it all over again.”