Goldman Sachs Asks Gold Medalist Michael Johnson a Hard Question

220px michael johnson at london olympic stadium 2010 07 1 Goldman Sachs Asks Gold Medalist Michael Johnson a Hard Question“I have a great idea, let’s go ask an Olympic champion about economics,” said nobody, ever, or so you would think. And yet leading off at what Goldman Sachs calls a “light-hearted look” at the Olympics and Economics—a report containing such whimsies as “The Olympics as a Winning FX Strategy” and an interview with the chief executive of the British Paralympic Association—we find Michael Johnson, the American track star who won gold in the 200 and 400 meters at the 1996 games, grappling with this poser:

Q: Historically, countries have found it hard to sustain high rates of growth for long periods of time. Does your experience of running suggest that it is more important to start steadily and accelerate, or maintain a high speed from the start?

Which is a wonderfully absurd thing to ask an ex-Olympian, unless he happened to be, say an investment banker*, and which elicited an answer too mundane to reproduce in entirety, but too ridiculous not to glance at:

Take a 400 metre race, for example. What I am trying to accomplish during that race is to accelerate quickly but not at the expense of that having a negative effect on the back end of the race. …  And I would imagine that it’s very difficult for a country and government to establish the type of consistency that’s needed to sustain that high rate of growth for long periods of time.

Mr. Johnson also had nondescript things to say about teamwork, competition and financial crises, which is hardly his fault: a) he’s an athlete, we assume he’s been so trained; b) one of the things we’re most looking forward to about the coming games is hearing Olympic athletes talk about the European debt crisis.

Also, it’s a wonder more athletes don’t go into second careers in public relations. Put that guy in front of a press conference or congressional panel and no one would stay awake long enough to know what happened.

* There’s also an interview with J. Michael Evans, the Goldman vice chairman who won a gold medal in 1984 as a member of a Canadian rowing team, which we enjoyed, being suckers for parallels between sport and life itself.