Johnson shooting for top spot on the podium

9:06 am on 30 August 2021

Michael Johnson has been on the Paralympics podium three times over the past 17 years but a fourth at the last Games in Rio has motivated the para-shooter to keep honing his craft.

Shooter Michael Johnson is selected by Paralympics New Zealand for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games.
The announcement took place at Parafed Auckand Shooting Club, Auckland, New Zealand on Tuesday 13th July 2021.

Shooter Michael Johnson is selected by Paralympics New Zealand for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games. Photo: Photosport Ltd 2021

The Aucklander, who will compete in 10 metre air rifle and 50 metre rifle events at the Asaka Shooting Range in Tokyo, never thought he would be one of only three Para athletes to attend five Games.

"Even though I've been in the sport for such a long time, I always feel as though I have another little bit or another little thing that I need to adjust or work on or train for.

"So that extra year just gave me a little bit of time to iron out any things that I need to work on with my equipment and in my training."

Shooting at home

The 47-year-old was more prepared than most to keep training during a disrupted build-up to the delayed Tokyo Paralympics.

In the lead-up to the 2008 Beijing Games Johnson didn't have a purpose built training facility - a situation that he wanted to make sure never happened again.

"We used to have a shooting range out at Ardmore and it was built for the 1990 Commonwealth Games, it was an amazing facility but sadly we lost it because the army needed to take it over and there was nowhere to train.

"So when I was living in Manurewa, I had a little house there, I used to shoot from the internal garage and I'd put a target down the hallway.

"I'd shoot from the garage through the lounge, past the toilet, and the bedrooms and the kitchen and that was my training facility all the way through to Beijing.

"I learned from that that you need to have some sort of facility or some way to train just in case you can't make it to your normal club."

So when building his home in Waiuku he knew what he needed.

"My garage happens to be 10 metres wide and so I can shoot from the room that attaches to it."

The ideal solution for when athletes were forced to stay home during Covid-19 lockdowns.

Five time Paralympian Michael Johnson.

Michael Johnson. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Watching from afar

While improving his shooting at home, Johnson, who has a spinal cord injury, has been watching what his competitors have been up to overseas.

"We've been isolated here in New Zealand and I haven't been exposed to international competition, so you do miss out and you do feel as though you might not be as sharp or as competitive.

"You kind of forget what's going on, and then seeing the results coming through from my competitors at these World Cups has really made me realise that I've got to stay as focused as I can and just do as best as I can at home in my own training environment. They're shooting really well and I've got to make sure that I'm shooting really well too."

Disappointed with his results in Rio, Johnson said he had to accept that sometimes things go well and sometimes they don't.

"I always go into competitions with really great expectations. I'm always out for a medal, always trying to win.

"I definitely get more competitive when the competition is there. When I get to a competition, I'm super excited and really ready to go and it's those moments that you find when you're super nervous and you're excited that's when you feel your most most alive and I think that's why we actually do it and we do it at the high level."

As an advocate for the sport and someone always willing to pass on his knowledge Johnson realised his greatest gift to shooting would be if he could achieve excellence as an athlete.

"I found preparing for Tokyo, I had to relinquish a lot of my coaching duties a few months out, just to give myself time to focus on getting myself ready and getting my results as good as they can possibly be."

Advice for the first-timers

Johnson remembers attending his first Paralympics alongside fellow para-shooter Colin Willis in 2004.

It was Willis' fifth Games, a milestone that Johnson thought was out of reach.

"I couldn't believe it, that he'd been shooting for 20 years. Like, there's no way I'm going to be able to be able to achieve what he's achieved five Paralympic Games, and to be able to maintain do really well for that long.

"And yet here I am, it's amazing how time goes so fast and before you know it, it's here."

There are 18 first-time Paralympians out of New Zealand's 29 athletes in Tokyo and Johnson's advice to the newbies is not to sweat the small stuff and soak up the experience.

"I think the main thing is don't get wrapped up in all the little things that are gonna upset you and stress you out, because there's a lot of things that are out of your control.

"So it's once you realise that those things either don't matter, or that you can't influence them, that sort of frees your mind and it actually makes you feel more relaxed.

"Tokyo is going to be completely different, with no crowds, and you're not going to be able to get out and see Tokyo and see parts of Japan, so it's going to be completely different, but I think still just try to enjoy it."