With a flinch, then a stumble, Michael Johnson set out to conquer Olympic history Thursday night. By his fourth step, he had righted himself. He was on his way.
In 19.32 seconds, Johnson was finished.
The crowd of 82,884 at Olympic Stadium erupted. No one ever had run 200 meters so brilliantly, or so quickly. “I got a lot more than I expected,” Johnson said.
Johnson completed the first 200-400 Olympic double by a man and shattered the world record he set here in June.
Other highlights on the track Thursday night included decathlete Dan O’Brien surviving a scare from a 21-year-old German named Frank Busemann to win a gold medal (see story, A1); France’s Marie-Jose Perec wrapping up a 200-400 double of her own; and American Derrick Adkins winning the 400 hurdles.
In the women’s 200 meters, 15 minutes ahead of the men’s, Perec became only the second woman to complete the 200-400 double, winning the 200 in 22.12 seconds. She caught Jamaica’s Merlene Ottey with 10 meters to go; Ottey, a perennial also-ran in major international sprints, ran 22.24. Mary Onyali of Nigeria won the bronze in 22.38, while American Inger Miller finished fourth in 22.41.
Valerie Brisco-Hooks won the 200 and 400 at the boycotted 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles.
Adkins, who went to college at Georgia Tech in Atlanta, won the gold in the 400 hurdles in 47.54 seconds. Samuel Matete of Zambia was second in 47.78 and Calvin Davis of the United States won the bronze in 47.96.
Adkins, the 1995 world champion, became the fourth consecutive U.S. man to win the gold medal in the 400 hurdles, dating to Edwin Moses in 1984.
The international track and field federation changed the schedule of events for Johnson, so he could finish the 400, which he won easily Monday, have a rest day, and then begin the qualifying rounds of the 200.
But as the schedule was made to order for Johnson, it also placed him under unbearable amounts of pressure.
“There’s never been this much pressure on me in my entire life,” he said.
Johnson handled it well, breaking the world mark of 19.66 seconds he set at the U.S. Olympic trials in Olympic Stadium in June by an incredible .34 seconds. Namibia’s Frank Fredericks won the silver in 19.68 seconds; Trinidad’s Ato Boldon won the bronze in 19.80. Fredericks’s time was the third-fastest in history, behind Johnson’s 19.32 and his old world record of 19.66. Still, Fredericks finished a good five meters behind Johnson.
Unlike the 400, Johnson knew he would be challenged in the 200. Fredericks, a rival of Johnson’s since Fredericks ran for Brigham Young and Johnson for Baylor, defeated Johnson on July 5 in Oslo, 19.82 seconds to 19.85 for Johnson, who got caught in the blocks and couldn’t catch up. It was the first loss for Johnson after 21 consecutive victories in the 200, dating to July 6, 1994, when Fredericks also beat him.
“I told myself in the blocks, “This is the one I really wanted, this is the one I didn’t get in Barcelona,”’ said Johnson, who had food poisoning in 1992 and failed to qualify for the 200 final.
American legend Jackie JoynerKersee returned from her disappointment in the heptathlon on Saturday to nail the automatic qualifying distance on her first attempt in the long jump preliminaries. She withdrew from the two-day event after aggravating a hamstring injury in the first heptathlon event, the 100-meter hurdles. On a gray, rainy morning, Joyner-Kersee pulled off her sweats just long enough to leap 21 feet 11-3/4 inches, smile, wave to the crowd and leave. The final of the long jump is tonight; Joyner-Kersee won the Olympic gold medal in that event in 1988 and a bronze in 1992.
“I feel pretty good,” Joyner-Kersee said. “The hamstring’s a little sore, but I’m just going to take it one jump at a time.”
In the semifinals of the women’s 1,500 meters, Algeria’s Hassiba Boulmerka, the defending Olympic champion, tripped and was bumped in the last lap and finished last, failing to qualify for the final.
In the men’s 1,500 semifinals, former George Mason University star Abdi Bile, 33, the 1987 world champion, easily qualified for the final in 3:33.30, third in the semifinal behind the world-record holder and favorite, Noureddine Morceli of Algeria, who ran 3:32.88.