Brooks Johnson

Medal record
Men's athletics
Representing the  United States
Pan American Games
Gold medal – first place 1963 São Paulo 4x100 metres relay

Brooks Johnson (born February 28, 1934) is a former sprinter and a current American track coach.

Early life

Johnson was a track star for his high school in Plymouth, Massachusetts.[1] His father shined shoes in Miami, Florida, and his mother was a housemaid.[2]

Life as an athlete

After high school, Johnson attended Tufts University. He describes his track career there as having more "lowlights than highlights."[1] He did achieve some success as an athlete there, including notably a gold medal as a member of the 4 × 100 m relay at the 1963 Pan American Games (with Ira Murchison, Ollan Cassell and Earl Young),[3][4] but injury curtailed his career.[5] He was not a member of the USA track team for the 1964 Olympics; he was involved in an automobile accident on the way to the qualifying meet at Stanford University.[2]

Early coaching career

Johnson earned a J.D. degree from the University of Chicago Law School. He never practiced as a lawyer, instead working for the Governmental Affairs Institute in the United States Department of State in Washington D.C.[1] Johnson thought of being a corporate lawyer but when told by the lawyer father of a school friend that "Regardless of what I think personally, my partners will say there is no room for blacks in corporate law", he realized that this color bar would mean that the law was not for him.[2]

While in Washington, Johnson started coaching high school athletes at St. Albans School, where he started in 1965 as coach, athletic director and teacher of cultural anthropology and history. Johnson got the job at St. Albans when, as a community organizer, he confronted the headmaster, the late Charles S. Martin, and objected that he was running “an all-white school in a black town.” To the retort "What was his solution?", Johnson replied, "I am the solution.".[6] One of his pupils there was the promising young discus thrower, and future vice-president, Al Gore.[1] His school lessons were also famed for their quirkiness.[2] At St. Albans in 1970 he founded the Skip Grant program for students from traditionally under-represented backgrounds.[7]

Later coaching career

Johnson spent 12 years at St. Albans before moving on to the University of Florida (1975–79) as assistant track coach,[8] then head coach at Stanford University (1979–92), succeeding coach Payton Jordan, and California Polytechnic State University (1993–96).[2][9]

Johnson has coached Olympians since 1960, beginning with 110-meter hurdles silver medalist Willie May. Since then, notable Olympians coached by Johnson include Esther Stroy (a 15-year-old girl he trained through a neighborhood track club to get to the 1968 Olympics[6]), Evelyn Ashford and Chandra Cheesborough.[1] In 1984 he was women's team coach for track and field at the Summer Games in Los Angeles[1] and relay coach in 2008.[9] Johnson was part of the U.S. Track and Field Olympic coaching staff in 1976, 1984, 2004, and 2008.[2] Johnson was elected to the USA Track Coaches Hall of Fame in 1997.[1][10] Johnson also is a former director of the ARCO Olympic Training Center for the United States Olympic Team (there at its opening in 2003-04) and acted as High Performance Division Chair for USA Track & Field.[8][10]

Current work

Johnson was hired by the Disney Corporation in 1996 "to jump-start a fledging sports program".[11] He is still an active coach with a small select group of athletes that has included Justin Gatlin, Tiffany Williams and David Oliver. "It is actually quite easy because a lot of the problems have already been resolved," Johnson said of his athletes, "these people were outstanding with Olympic credentials before they ever came here, so they know their way to the podium. Our job is to retrace the steps back to the podium."[12] Johnson is currently based at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World, usually to be found in his "signature beige straw hat".[2]

On the future, Johnson does not plan to retire, as he said, "I like kicking (butt).I like to win, my whole life has been competitive," and he will continue "until they throw dirt in my face".[12]

Accolades and awards

In 2018, Johnson was given the USA Track and Field Legend Coach Award.[13][14]

In 2010, Johnson was named Nike Coach of the Year by USA Track and Field.[15]


In 1992, one of Johnson's former athletes at Stanford University went public with her criticisms of Johnson's treatment of students.[16]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g "Q&A with Olympic sprint coach Brooks Johnson", Dave Scheiber, Times Staff Writer, Tampa Bay Times, February 8, 2008.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g George Diaz, "An Olympic legacy etched in a 'benevolent dictatorship'", Orlando Sentinel (June 23, 2012).
  3. ^,2006988 The Miami News, p 8C, May 5, 1963.
  4. ^ The Optimist (Abilene, Texas), Vol. 50 No. 27, Ed. 27, p 8, May 10, 1963.
  5. ^ "Brooks Johnson Profile". Retrieved May 22, 2012.
  6. ^ a b "Under Brooks Johnson’s tutelage, David Oliver clears every hurdle", Amy Shipley, The Washington Post, June 9, 2011.
  7. ^ "Thornton, Bolden slated to head 2008 Olympic Team Staff – Track & Field", USA Track & Field, March 15, 2007. Retrieved July 20, 2012.
  8. ^ a b "Coach Brooks Johnson (Honorary)", The University of Florida Track & Field Archives. Retrieved July 20, 2012.
  9. ^ a b "A Quest for Wisdom - Exploring the Thoughts & Philosophy of Brooks Johnson", Clarence Gaines, Retrieved July 19, 2012.
  10. ^ a b "Brooks Johnson, USTFCCCA Class of 1997", USA Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association. Retrieved July 19, 2012.
  11. ^,0,6296003.column?page=2 "An Olympic legacy etched in a 'benevolent dictatorship'", George Diaz, Chicago Tribune, June 23, 2012
  12. ^ a b Archived May 7, 2011, at the Wayback Machine "77-y-o American coach handpicks athletes, relies on group dynamics", Paul A Reid, Jamaica Observer, April 19, 2011.
  13. ^ "Venerable four-time Team USATF coach Brooks Johnson selected as 2018 Legend Coach" USA Track & Field press release, June 14, 2018
  14. ^ 'BROOKS JOHNSON NAMED USATF’S “LEGEND COACH"', St Albans School Alumni News, June 26, 2018.
  15. ^ "Johnson named Nike Coach of the Year", USA Track & Field press release, November 23, 2010,
  16. ^ Tish Williams, "Baring Brooks Johnson's Bitter Legacy" The Stanford Daily (December 3, 1992): 6.

External links