Sports


Johnson Blows ‘Em Away Breaks World Record In The 200 In A Blazing 19.66

MONDAY, JUNE 24, 1996

After his close call in the 200-meter semifinals Saturday, when his world-record time did not count as a world record because of a stiff tailwind, Michael Johnson remained resolved. As Scarlett O’Hara, someone else who passed through here, said when it appeared to everyone else that her hopes were gone with the wind, “Tomorrow’s another day.”

A grand Sunday it was for Johnson, who ran the 200 final in the U.S. Olympic track and field trials in 19.66 seconds to leave the sport’s oldest individual record far behind. It had been owned by Italy’s Pietro Mennea, who ran his 19.72 in the high altitude of Mexico City in 1979.

Johnson, whose fastest legal time previously was 19.79, said the record would be his when the conditions were right. They could hardly have been better than Sunday.

As evidenced by the times since the trials began nine days before, there might not be a faster track in the world than the one here that was imported from Italy.

The heat, measured at a high of 113 degrees on the track and at 109.6 for the 200, was too intense for normal humans but about perfect for sprinters. Even while running his eighth race in nine scorching days, after also winning the 400 last week in the third-fastest time ever, Johnson appeared fresh.

And the competition was impressive. On one side of Johnson, in Lane 5, was the defending Olympic champion and American-record holder (19.73) Michael Marsh. On the other was Jeff Williams, the bronze medalist in last summer’s World Championships. In Lane 1 was Carl Lewis, who won the gold medal in the 200 in 1984 and the silver in ‘88.

But really, no one else was in this race with Johnson. At the finish, the closest of his rivals, Williams, was almost four yards behind in 20.03. Marsh was third in 20.04 to claim the final berth on the U.S. team. Lewis was fifth in 20.20.

Johnson, 28, of Dallas, already had most of what the sport has to offer - two world championships in both the 200 and 400 and a gold medal in the 1,600-meter relay in Barcelona, Spain - except a world record. He thought he had one Saturday, when he ran 19.70. But the wind blew at his back at 2.7 meters per second, over the limit of 2.0.

When he crossed the finish line Sunday, he glanced at the clock and saw it fixed at 19.66. He did not look at the wind gauge. Everyone else among the crowd of 30,141 inside Centennial Olympic Stadium presumably did. It read +1.7.

Johnson was sure that he had the world record when he heard the cheers reach a crescendo.

“I knew that if the wind had been over the allowable, I would have heard some moans and groans,” he said.

Not that there weren’t some of those Sunday, the final day of the trials to select the team for the July 19-Aug. 4 Summer Olympics.

The most sympathetic were reserved for Gwen Torrence, a hometown hero who had been favored to win at least three gold medals. The surest seemed to be in defense of her 200-meter title.

But in winning the 100 nine days ago, she strained a muscle in her upper left thigh. Although she reached Sunday’s final in the 200, she had the misfortune of finding herself in an extremely quick race. In it were run the four fastest times in the world this year. Hers was the fourth fastest, not fast enough for the U.S. team in that event.

Carlette Guidry won in 22.14, Dannette Young was second in 22.18. It took several minutes to determine who was third. When the times were rounded off, Torrence and Inger Miller were given official times of 22.25. But the photo revealed that Miller had finished one-thousandth of a second ahead.

As a result of her bad luck, she wins the Dan O’Brien Award for the track and field trials of this Olympiad. That also provides additional ammunition to those who want to see athletes who are obviously the best in their events, such as O’Brien in the decathlon in ‘92 and Torrence in the 200 this year, automatically waived onto the U.S. team.

That might assure the United States of its best representation in the Olympics, but it also would end the dreams of lesser-accomplished athletes who think that on a given day they can compete with the world’s finest and deprive the trials of much of their drama.

There were several examples of that Sunday.

In the women’s long jump, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, both legs heavily bandaged because of injuries suffered in her second-place heptathlon finish last week, had the strength for only one jump, a windaided 23-1-1/4, then watched anxiously as it held up for first place.

Marieke Veltman, another former UCLA long jumper, made the team by finishing third with a 22-7 on her sixth and final effort.

In the men’s 110-meter hurdles, Jack Pierce, apparently back after surgery for a herniated disk when he ran the fourth-fastest time ever (12.94) in Saturday’s semifinals, hit the first hurdle Sunday and collapsed to the track.

He probably would not have won. World champion Allen Johnson did that in 12.92, equaling Roger Kingdom’s American record. But Pierce might have been in a race with former USC hurdler Mark Crear, second in 13.05. Kingdom, two-time Olympic champion, was fifth.

In the women’s 1,500, Vicki Huber made a mad dash down the final straightaway to pass Amy Wickus and finish third behind Regina Jacobs and Juli Henner. Ruth Wysocki finished last.

Eight years ago, Huber, a Villanova senior at the time, finished sixth in the 3,000 in Seoul, South Korea. But the stress of an eating disorder, a failed marriage and several injuries put the single mother from Wilmington, Del., out of the sport until last year.



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