Cheongju 2018: Coaching a good distraction for Michael Johnson

New Zealand shooter balances competing with developing other athletes 02 May 2018
a male Para athlete and a woman standing both holding mascots

Michael Johnson (front) is targeting shooting gold at Cheongju 2018


“When I started the sport, I was the only athlete in New Zealand and I just thought we need more shooters [be]cause this is an amazing sport. Anyone with a disability or without a disability can do it."

When Michael Johnson was competing at World Cups, he was also coaching.

The New Zealand shooter said playing both roles during competitions has its challenges. But ironically, it also helps him focus.

“I do better when I’m distracted,” Johnson said. “I’ll be running an event, and coaching, and shooting, and setting everything up. But I end up doing better rather than if I was just focusing on shooting.”

Johnson is one of two New Zealand athletes competing at the 2018 World Shooting Para Sport Championships, which begin Friday (4 May) in Cheongju, South Korea.

In Cheongju, he will only be competing, as one of his top pupils Neelishma O’Neill could not make the trip due to elbow surgery.

They both competed at the World Shooting Para Sport World Cup in Bangkok, Thailand, last November.

There, Johnson took bronze in the R4 (mixed 10m air rifle standing SH2), enough to earn an MQS (minimum qualification score) for Cheongju 2018. It was the event he captured his first Paralympic gold back at Athens 2004, which was also his Games debut.

After his fourth Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro in 2016, Johnson focused more on his coaching career.

In addition to competing and running events, he has attended coaching courses, with his next one coming up later this year, hosted by the International Shooting Sport Federation (ISSF).

“When I started the sport, I was the only athlete in New Zealand and I just thought we need more shooters [be]cause this is an amazing sport,” Johnson said. “Anyone with a disability or without a disability can do it. So I’ve just been trying to promote it and have been coaching people, trying to get them in.”

His athlete O’Neill was not able to join him at March’s World Cup in Al Ain, UAE. It was the penultimate competition before the 2018 World Championships.

Johnson did not medal there. But he felt he was on the right track to Cheongju, where he will compete in R4, R5 (mixed 10m air rifle prone SH2) and R9 (mixed 50m rifle prone SH2); he is the reigning World Championship bronze medallists from Suhl, Germany; and also won the R4 Worlds title from 2010 and 2006.

“It’s good to not always come away with a win [be]cause it just makes you hungry,” Johnson said about Al Ain. “It’s about building up. So if I had won a whole bunch of medals in Al Ain, maybe I would be peaking then and not now. It’s about getting your timing right.”

Although O’Neill will not be in Cheongju, the multi-Paralympic and world medallists has another source for distraction: their penguin mascot Pengui.

O’Neill gave the penguin to Johnson when he went to Rio, and Johnson took it around, snapping photos of the penguin around the Games and with other athletes from various sports. Now, he has carried the tradition to Cheongju 2018.

“I think it was at the Opening Ceremony and I almost got [then-International Paralympic Committee President] Sir Philip Craven to get a photo with him,” Johnson said. “[Pengui] is definitely clocking up some frequent flyer points.”

The 2018 World Shooting Para Sport Championships runs from 4-1 May and will be streamed live on the International Paralympic Committee's website. More information can be found on the event website.