60 Seconds with Michael Johnson

Para-Shooter Michael Johnson. Photo / Getty Images
Para-Shooter Michael Johnson. Photo / Getty Images

Michael Johnson
Paralympic shooter
Previous Olympics: Athens (gold), Beijing (bronze), London (bronze)
Age: 42

I understand shooting wasn't your first choice.

While I was in the spinal unit, I tried archery in the gym there, quite enjoyed it and decided to give it a go after I got out. It didn't really work out. I went along to watch them shoot at One Tree Hill. After they had all shot, someone would blow a whistle and they would have to go and pull out their arrows. And the archers that had missed the target pulled out metal detectors to locate their arrows. I took my dad along to help me but it was never going to work.

How important is the mental side of your sport?

It's massive. You can work on technique all you want but when the pressure goes on you can easily get distracted, especially when things are not going well. I've had a sports psychologist through HSPNZ since 2006 and it's a continual work-on. It's about being in the moment, accepting the stress and nervousness and allowing it to work for you, taking it one shot at the time.

Talking of one shot at a time, you had quite an unusual buildup to the 2008 Olympics.

Ardmore was shut down before the Beijing Olympics so I had nowhere to shoot. I bought a target - the same one you would use at the Olympics or Paralympics - and set it up at the end of the hallway. I would shoot from my garage, through the lounge, over the couch, down the hallway, past the bedrooms and kitchen and hit the target at the end of the hallway.

What did your landlord think?

(laughs) I was always worried they might found out but nobody did.

Did you ever miss the target?

No. The bullseye is half a millimetre in diameter and the target is around 30mm in diameter. You train to be so accurate there was no way I was going to miss. If I did, I would have been in big trouble with my partner... so it was like the Paralympic pressure was on to shoot well in my house.

What's been your career highlight?

Definitely taking gold in Athens. I was the real underdog, no one knew who I was and it all came together. I'd had so many hurdles to get to where I was. London was also incredible. It was amazing to see the attitudes change towards people with disabilities.

What do you think about the perception of Paralympians?

It's getting better and I think people realise now how much goes into it. The professionalism behind Paralympic sport is on par with able-bodied athletes. To win a gold medal you can't do it as a hobby, you need to be 110 per cent committed.

How is the preparation going for Rio?

It's going well. I came away with four silvers and a gold from recent World Cup events, against most of the top guys that will be in Brazil. It gives you confidence.

- Herald on Sunday

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