Born In Dallas
He was born Michael Duane Johnson in Dallas, Texas, on September 13, 1967. The youngest child of Paul, a truck driver, and Ruby Johnson, an elementary school teacher, he grew up in a stable family environment in Dallas. Johnson, like his four older siblings, showed an early interest in sports, but he clearly leaned toward running and shunned such contact sports as football and basketball. Of his attraction to running, he later told USA Today: "I don't like depending on anyone for anything in life. In track, it's just you." Although sports played an important role in Johnson's childhood, he also devoted a good deal of time and energy to his academic studies, attending classes for gifted children. As a boy, he wore black, horn-rimmed glasses that brought taunts of "nerd" from some of his classmates. As much as he loved running, his boyhood goal was to become an architect.
He first began to compete in track as a teenager, and although he clearly enjoyed it, he was hardly an overnight star. As he told Boy's Life, "I first competed in track at Atwell Junior High in Dallas, and then just because it was something fun to do. I ran the 200 and the sprint relay, but I wasn't outstanding and had no big plans for high school track." In fact, Johnson, opting to concentrate on his studies, didn't compete at all during his first two years at Skyline High School. As a junior he tried out and landed a spot on the school's track team. He got some good advice from high school coach Joel Ezar, who urged Johnson to just relax and enjoy running. "Track is a big sport in Texas, but he [Ezar] didn't put pressure on me," Johnson told Boy's Life. "I ran the 200 and both relays [400 and 1,600]. I never went to a meet intent on running great times and trying to impress college coaches and get a scholarship. As a result, I never felt burned out." As a senior, Johnson won the district title in the 200-meter dash but lost at the state meet.