James Johnson came from a family that made a fortune from coal mining and was rich enough to devote much of his time to skating. With his wife Phyllis he won an Olympic silver medal in London and finished with the same colour of medal at the 1908 World Championships. The pair became world champions the following year and repeated this achievement in 1912. They were also world bronze medallists in 1910. Johnson, who also had moderate success as a solo skater, had his career ended by ill health and was only 46 when he died in 1921.