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ATLANTA 1996 OLYMPICS | TODAY'S CLOSEUP : TRACK AND
FIELD

If You Liked Johnson's Chances Before . . .

Track and field: Injury to Reynolds makes him virtual shoo-in in tonight's 400-meter final.

July 29, 1996|RANDY HARVEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ATLANTA — If Michael Johnson is not to become the first man to win the 200 and 400 meters in the Summer Olympics, it figures that he will falter in the shorter of the two races later this week. The competition in that one is much classier. Included are the gold and silver medalists from 1992, the United States' Michael Marsh and Namibia's Frankie Fredericks.

As for tonight's 400 final in Centennial Olympic Stadium, Johnson was virtually assured a gold medal on the first curve of a race Sunday that he was not even running.

In the first of two semifinals, Butch Reynolds clutched his right hamstring, fell to the track and had to be carried off in a cart. Returning to the track two hours later after receiving medical attention, he said that he came out of the first two rounds Friday and Saturday with both hamstrings strained and put too much stress on the right one Sunday.

Perhaps he could have continued, he said, but he feared seriously injuring himself and having to withdraw from the United States' 1,600-meter relay team that will compete next weekend.

Left unsaid was that he has a significantly better chance of winning a gold medal in the relay than in a race against Johnson in the open quarter.

Even so, Reynolds might have been the only threat tonight to Johnson's 54-race winning streak in 400-meter finals. Reynolds is the world-record holder at 43.29 seconds and has the second-fastest time in the world this year, 43.91 to Johnson's 43.44.

The next-best runner in the final now is Great Britain's Roger Black, who won his semifinal in 44.69 after Reynolds went down.

The Brit is so menacing to Johnson that London promoters a week before the opening ceremony withdrew an invitation for the Texan to run a 400 there because they feared he would demoralize Black.

Black said that they were right.

Even jogging the final 30 meters, Johnson won his semifinal in 44.59. He spent more energy throwing his gold shoes into the stands afterward so that someone among the crowd of 81,203 could have a souvenir.

He looks even better than he did in the U.S. trials here last month. For one thing, he wore purple shoes then. For another, he is running even more relaxed. He beat Reynolds in that final with the 43.34, his second-fastest time ever after a 43.39 in last summer's World Championships.

Johnson did not witness Reynolds' injury, saying that he did not know about it until he looked on the scoreboard before his semifinal and noticed that Reynolds did not finish. They once were close friends, sharing the same agent, but have hardly spoken to each other since Johnson celebrated before reaching the finish line in last summer's national championships. Reynolds had a good view of it from his second-place position and thought Johnson was trying to show him up.

Johnson said that he is disappointed that Reynolds will not be in the final, not for Reynolds' sake but because he thought the United States had a chance to sweep the medals. Alvin Harrison of Salinas, Calif., is the other U.S. finalist after finishing fourth in his semifinal at 45.04.

Asked if he will be ready tonight to challenge Reynolds' world record, Johnson said: "The fact I'm out there indicates we could have a world record. That may sound arrogant, but I'd like to think any time I'm out there I can break a world record."

Arrogant, no. Confident, yes. But he does not dismiss the men who will be in the other seven lanes today as easily as observers from the press section do.

"I certainly hope that when I look at the clock, it will be a world record," he said. "But that's not my objective. My objective is to win the race. To do that, I'll have to run the best race I can. Anybody who gets to the final in the Olympics is highly capable. None of us worked as hard as we have to get second place."

Johnson, however, does not seem the least bit nervous.

His other objective for today?

"To get a haircut," he said.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Track and Field Double Threat Michael Johnson is attempting to become the first man to win the 200 and 400 meters at an Olympics and has a chance to set world records in both events, Johnson has won 54 consecutive finals at 400 meters and set a world record of 19.66 seconds om the 200 at the U.S. trials in June. He won a gold running on the U.S. 1,600-meter-relay team at the 1992 Olympics.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

200 Meters at a Glance

First Round: Wednesday, 7:45 a.m.

Final: Thursday, 5 p.m. World Record: 19.66 Michael Johnson, USA, 1996

Top Contenders

Frank Fredericks (Namibia): Finished second in Saturday's 100 meters and ended Johnson's 21-race winning streak at 200 meters in Oslo in early July.

Michael Marsh (U.S.): Defending Olympic 200-meter champion who finished fifth in this year's 100-meters,

Ato Boldon (Trinidad and Tobago): Best starter of the contenders who could surprise after winning bronze medal in the 100 meters on Saturday.

Jeff Williams (U.S.): A Los Angeles native who has predicted a gold medal for himself at 200 meters.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

400 Meters at a Glance

Final: Tonight, 6:10 p.m.

World Record: 43.29, Butch Reynolds, U.S., 1988

Johnson's Best Time: 43.39 in 1995 (note: Slowed and celebrated final 10 meters.)

Top Contenders

Robert Martin (Jamaica): With world record holder Butch Reynolds sidelined because of a leg injury, Martin has a chance to win a medal.

Alvin Harrison (U.S.): A sleeper who finished third at U.S. trials after not being listed in U.S. Olympic Trials team media guidebook.

Roger Black (Britain): Top European quartermiler with a great deal of international experience.

Davian Clarke (Jamaica): A talented runner with enough finishing speed to make an impact.

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