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  • Monday, August 30, 1999

    More magic might await Michael Johnson

     SEVILLE, Spain (AP) -- The magic of Michael Johnson's 400-meter world record was the defining moment of the World Championships. There could be more magic in his future.
     While Johnson has accomplished more than any track and field athlete during the '90s, his career is far from over at 31.
     He still has some big goals, including dropping the 400 record below 43 seconds and winning an unprecedented second 200-400 double at the Sydney Olympics.
     "I never put limits on myself," said Johnson, who shattered Butch Reynolds' 11-year-old 400 record of 43.29 seconds with an electrifying time of 43.18.
     Johnson ran the first 200 in 21.0 and the second 200 in 22.2, a pattern that other 400 runners cannot match. For the average quarter-miler, the difference between the first half of the race and the second is two seconds.
     "Getting to 300, he was very relaxed," coach Clyde Hart said. "Patience was very important. He showed that 31.6 was like a walk in the park."
     "He looks like he can do anything he wants," 1992 Olympic coach Mel Rosen said of Johnson.
     As long as injuries don't interfere.
     When Johnson is healthy, there doesn't appear to be a 200 or 400 runner who can cope with his remarkable combination of speed and power.
     When he set the 200 record of 19.32 at the 1996 Olympics, slicing an astonishing .34 seconds off his previous mark, second-place finisher Frankie Fredericks of Namibia was about five meters back, a huge margin in such a short race. And to think, Fredericks had come within .02 seconds of Johnson's previous record of 19.66, running 19.68.
     When Johnson smashed the 400 record, runner-up Sanderlei Parrela of Brazil set a South American record of 44.29 and still was about 15 meters behind.
     Johnson is aware that no one can seriously push him, and to continue breaking records he'll have to do it running alone down the stretch. It's not the ideal situation, but one Johnson has learned to cope with.
     "I realized long ago that I wouldn't be pushed," he said.
     In the 200, Johnson's major opposition in recent years has come from Fredericks and 1997 world 200 champion Ato Boldon of Trinidad and Tobago.
     Now, Maurice Greene, the 100 and 200 gold medalist at the championships that ended Sunday, poses another threat, but he is still learning the techniques of running the 200 and might need a couple of more years to catch Johnson.
     In the 400, the only active runners to have broken 44 seconds are Reynolds and 1988 Olympic gold medalist Steve Lewis. And neither is very active, leaving Johnson the undisputed ruler of the event.
     There has been some clamor for a 150-meter match race between Johnson and Greene to determine the "world's fastest human." Johnson will have no part of it, not after his disastrous confrontation with Canada's Donovan Bailey in 1997, when he tore his right quadriceps.
     A Johnson-Greene showdown over 200 meters probably will come next year at the U.S. Olympic trials at Sacramento, Calif.
     Johnson capped the World Championships with another milestone, anchoring the U.S. 1,600-meter relay team to victory for his ninth career gold medal at the worlds, the most by any athlete, one more than Carl Lewis.
     "It's an honor," Johnson said. "It's a testament to what I've tried to do in my career: to be consistent and go into every championships on the top of my game and go in to win."
     He now has won four straight 400 world titles, three relay gold medals and two 200 championships.
     Johnson also has three Olympic gold medals, ran on the U.S. team that set the world 1,600 relay record last year and owns the world indoor record for 400 meters.
     In addition, he won the 200-400 double at the 1995 U.S. Championships, the first man to accomplish that feat since 1899, and he repeated in 1996; he was unbeaten in the 400 from 1989 to 1997, a span of 58 finals; and he was the first to be ranked No. 1 in the world in both the 200 and 400, having achieved that five times since 1990.
     "He's superhuman, he's phenomenal," U.S. long jumper Erick Walder said.
     Johnson has two more races this season, at Brussels, Belgium, on Friday, and at Rieti, Italy, on Sunday.
     Then, he will return to Dallas and rest before preparing for the 2000 Olympics.
     "Michael comes back fast," Hart said. "He's never much out of shape."

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