London Spy

Where are they now? Roger Black

London Spy

The peak of Roger Black's career saw him finish second behind Michael Johnson in the 400m final at the 1996 Olympics. Here he tells Eurosport why it remains such a momentous time in his life.

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Roger Black with his 400m and 4x400m relay medals

Black takes silver behind 'Golden Shoes'

Roger Black was used to the taste of gold by the time he arrived in Atlanta. The British sprinter had collected a mixture of silver and gold from the 400m and the 4x400m relays amid several appearances at the Commonwealth Games, European Championships and World Championships.

A bronze was also procured from the 4x400m relay at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, but the silver he garnered from Atlanta felt like gold. With Michael Johnson in the same race, gold was never a realistic option for Black nor the rest of the field.

"The challenge you have as an athlete, especially at the top level, is that you are used to winning," said Black. "I could take on the Americans on my day, but I couldn't take on Johnson. He was in a different league to me. We all knew it.

"He brought 200m speed so he could do things we couldn't do. He was the world record holder over 200m. I was very aware that if I tried to run Michael's run, I would just collapse. I couldn't do what he could do between 150m and 300m. I just couldn't do that.

"Basically, I had to take him out of the equation. That sounds easy, but is the hardest thing to do because you are a competitor. You race people. He was in the lane outside me in his gold shoes. The only way I could have come first was if he messed up, but I couldn't come first by beating him. He was just too good."

An 85,000 crowd threw the full weight of their support behind Johnson, an all-American sporting hero who was destined to become the first man to make off with gold medals from the 200m and 400m finals in the history of the Games.

Fighting for second is never easy to accept in a final, but Black was aware that attempting to go with Johnson could have buried his aspirations of snaring second place. Black recalled the importance of maintaining his own stride pattern and forgetting about Johnson in order to achieve his goal of second.

Black's aim was to stay in a mode of relaxation from the starting pistol. Failure to maintain a relaxed gait winds up with the muscles being invaded by "lactic acid" and ends with everyone racing past you at the 300m point.

"I relive the race one hundred times a year because I make my living talking about it," explained Black. "For me, it was my greatest achievement. There is no doubt in mind about that. I spent my career building towards that goal.

"I was always aware that World, European and Commonwealth medals are great, but you would swap them all for the Olympic medal. For me, I'd missed the 1988 Olympics and wasn't ready in Barcelona in 1992 so I was very aware that Atlanta represented my last chance of winning an indiviudal medal. And also, I was very aware that it was going to be tough to win a medal. Not just because of Michael Johnson, but because there were two other Americans and other guys who had all run faster times than me."

Johnson traditionally ran the first 200m at the same pace as his competitors before haring off in the second half of the race. Black could not match Johnson's kick from that point, but he was in good company. Nobody in the race could live with the American, who had arrived in the final boasting 54 straight wins in 400m finals spanning over the previous seven years.

Johnson set an Olympic record of 43.49, but Black was next home.

Black finished second, almost 10m behind Johnson, but had won his own race. He had been part of a memorable night in Atlanta and would go on to claim a silver from the 4x400m final in his last outing at a major competition.

"In terms of the event, I was in great shape and knew I was ready. I'd had a great season and was confident of that sense of being in control. I remember vividly getting on the bus from the warm-up track to the stadium," said Black.

"I knew that if you weren't ahead of me with 100m to go, you weren't going to beat me. That was the difference from the past with me - I had got my last 100 worked out. I remember the gun going and Michael going. I just had to drive to the line. I had that sense of relief knowing you had achieved what you set out to do.

"I remember me and Michael shaking hands and congratulating each other. I was never the same again after that. It was a huge relief once it was over. I never thought I'd be that good. It is an amazing sense of completion."

He retired in 1998 with a haul of nine golds, five silvers and a bronze from major competitions. His two silvers in Atlanta remain the pinnacle of his career.

"The last British man to win an Olympic medal in the 400m..your going back to Chariots of Fire of time," said Black. "It is very much an event dominated by Americans. Nobody will challenge for a medal for some time, certainly not this year. The magnitude becomes greater as the years pass by.

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The best of the rest: Black finishes behind Michael Johnson

What has he done since?

Black announced his retirement from athletics after failing to qualify as GB's 400m representative for the 1998 European Championships. Roger Black and fellow British Olympian, the javelin thrower Steve Backley, work for BackleyBlack which runs a series of courses aimed at improved performance in the workplace.

"From a business point of view, winning silver is more relevant to the audience than if Michael stood up and talked about how he won all his gold medals," comments Black.

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"People can't relate to that level of greatness. I was good, but it wasn't easy. For me, my silver medal was my gold medal.

"There is a message there to all of us. Sometimes you don't have to win the gold medal to feel like a champion. We can't all win and break world records, but we can have the feeling of giving your best. It is not a new message, but it is genuine.

"We can't all win or be the best in the world, but we can all look in the mirror and ask yourself 'did you nail it?' I know that I could not have done any better in the Olympic final. Everyone in the business knows that too.

"You are judged by your peers. Carl Lewis went out of his way to find me after winning his final Olympic gold medal in the long jump. In speeches, everyone knows that those medals are not given to you. The Olympics is not like watching golf, tennis or football. It is every four years. If Roger Federer doesn't win Wimbledon, he can come back the next year. Four years in sport is an eternity."

As well as working as a motivational speaker, he has had stints commentating for television. He was awarded an MBE in 1992. He is an ambassador to the British team at the London Olympics and will be hosting corporate clients during the Games.

For more information on Roger Black and Olympic performance in the workplace visit www.backleyblack.com

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