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ATLANTA 1996 OLYMPICS | Track & Field

July 14, 1996|RANDY HARVEY

Men

What We Know

Michael Johnson is favored to become the first man in the Olympics to win the 200 meters and the 400. But his campaign became more intriguing with his loss nine days ago to Namibia's Frankie Fredericks in the 200 in Oslo.

Johnson, 28, of Dallas, is so dominant in the 400 that organizers of a recent meet in London withdrew his invitation out of concern that he would demoralize British quarter-milers. He has won 54 straight finals.

He is expected to have a more difficult time in the 200, even though the 19.66 seconds he ran to win the U.S. trials in June broke a 17-year-old world record. Besides Fredericks, men who have the potential to upset him include defending champion Michael Marsh and Jeff Williams, both of Los Angeles, and UCLA's Ato Boldon of Trinidad.

What We Don't Know

Carl Lewis made his fifth U.S. Olympic team in only one event, the long jump. He did that by one inch in a third-place finish. Will Lewis, who turned 35 on July 1, have improved enough to join U.S. discus thrower Al Oerter as the only track and field athletes to win the same event in four straight Olympics?

Someone You Should Know

Four years after Fredericks won silver medals in the 100 and 200 meters in Barcelona, it is inconceivable that hehardly beyond the realm of possibility that he could join such all-time greats as Lewis, Jesse Owens, Valery Borzov and Bobby Morrow to win gold medals in both.

Fredericks is not initimidated by Johnson, as the Namibian proved on July 5 with his victory in the 200 meters. That snapped Johnson's 21-race winning streak in the event. Fredericks also was the winner in Johnson's last loss before that, in 1994.

Fredericks, 28, has been preparing all year for his showdown in the 200 with Johnson, setting the indoor world record in February at a remarkable 19.92 seconds. And after training with 1992 Olympic champion Linford Christie of Great Britain, Fredericks recently ran 9.86 in the 100 to equal the second-fastest time ever.

If not for politics, this could be his third Olympics. He won the South African 200 championship in 1987 but could not compete in the Olympics the next summer because of the ban against that country. After Namibia gained its independence in 1990, he competed internationally for the first time in 1991 and won a silver medal behind Johnson in the World Championships.

That also was the year Fredericks became the first foreigner to win both events in the NCAA outdoor championships.

Something You Should Know

The only man to win Olympic medals in the 200 and 400 is Great Britain's Eric Liddell, later immortalized in the movie "Chariots of Fire." In 1924, he won the 400 and finished third in the 200. A Scot, Liddell was criticized by his countrymen for not bringing them more glory. He refused to compete in three other events, including two relays, because they fell on Sunday. One year later, Liddell went to China as a missionary. He died there in 1945 of a brain tumor while in a Japanese internment camp.

WOMEN

What We Know

Two U.S. women could leave the Games with three gold medals. But if one does, it will come at the expense of the other.

That is not the reason Gail Devers of Mission Hills and Gwen Torrence of Lithonia, Ga., an Atlanta suburb, are rivals. That goes back to the Barcelona Olympics in 1992, when Torrence, after finishing fourth in the 100 meters, said that two of the three women who finished ahead of her had used banned drugs.

Torrence did not name names, but Devers, the winner, felt unjustly implicated. That will add sizzle to their confrontation in Atlanta in the 100. Torrence is favored after winning their two meetings this year.

Devers' other individual event, the 100-meter hurdles, is more special for her this year. She was en route to an apparent gold medal in that event in 1992 when she hit the last hurdle and stumbled across the finish line in fifth place.

Torrence also expected to have a second individual event, but she will not be able to defend her Olympic 200-meter title because she finished fourth in the U.S. trials. Torrence, however, has been named to the 400 and 1,600 relay teams. She and Devers will be teammates on the former.

What We Don't Know

Two-time Olympic heptathlon champion Jackie Joyner-Kersee has established herself in the last decade as the greatest multi-event performer ever. Last summer, however, she struggled to finish the national championships and withdrew from the worlds because of injuries. In the recent U.S. trials, she failed to win a heptathlon she completed for the first time in 12 years with her second-place finish to Kelly Blair. Have the demands of the seven disciplines caught up to her?

Someone You Should Know

If all goes well, Michael Johnson will need barely more than a minute to complete his double. On the other hand, Ireland's Sonia O'Sullivan will be subjected to Atlanta's heat and humidity about 20 times longer.

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