Johnson grabs 200 in style for a double

June 19, 1995|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,Sun Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- If outdoor track and field indeed needed a revitalization, it may have gotten a shot in the arm yesterday. It doesn't get much better than this.

Mike Powell, Kareem Streete-Thompson and Carl Lewis in the long jump. Gwen Torrence overcoming an injury in the women's 200 meters. Jackie Joyner-Kersee in the long jump. Gail Devers in the hurdles. Baltimore stars Tony Barton in the high jump and Jack Pierce in the hurdles.

And, of course, the men's 200, where Michael Johnson took on Mike Marsh.

The winners were Powell, Torrence, Joyner-Kersee, Devers and Johnson before a crowd of 16,583 at the USA Mobil Track and Field Championships at Hughes Stadium.

Barton, from Milford Mill High, finished second in the long jump and Pierce, a 1984 graduate of Morgan State, third in the 110-meter hurdles.

Both made the U.S. squad that has a balance of youth and experience and will compete in the World Championships later this summer. The roster is composed of the top three individuals from each event.

"Me? The World Championships? It doesn't get any better than that," said Barton.

Johnson finally may have received the recognition he deserved on American soil by winning the 200 in 19.83 seconds, the fastest time in the world this year under any conditions. That win, coupled with the 400 title earlier in the meet, gave Johnson the first double at the national championships in those two races since Maxie Long won them in 1899.

"I'm just glad it's over," said Johnson, 27, a native of Dallas. "It's been a tough week, doubling up. Unless you feel confident that you can win the double, I wouldn't suggest it. It has great risk, but also great rewards."

Johnson won the 200 in his vintage style: the back slightly arched, hands slicing through the air, the low knee lift that defies sprinting logic of the greats before him such as Tommie Smith and Henry Carr.

Johnson had a strong 100 yesterday, passing Kevin Little and Jeff Williams coming out of the curve. Then it was over. Little was second in 20.16. Williams was third at 20.20. Where was Marsh? Sixth at 20.35 after the tough assignment of running in Lane 1.

"I wanted to give that curve 100 percent and 50 to 75 percent down the stretch," said Johnson. "I wanted to give the fans their money's worth."

With the double, Johnson apparently becomes the sport's new superstar, a title his peers gave him long ago, but one that was recognized only overseas.

In Europe, Johnson's name is a household word.

the United States, barely a word is mentioned about him. Johnson is partly to blame. He blew his big opportunity for glory in the 1992 Olympics by failing to make the final of the 200, even though he ran a leg on the world-record-setting 4-by-400 relay team.

Johnson also doesn't have that highly marketable personality. No brashness. No flamboyancy. He's devoid of scandal, he's drug-free and calm, basically the same personality as when he was a roly-poly kid with horn-rimmed glasses in Dallas. And oh, can he run. Johnson commands $25,000 to $60,000 per race on the track circuit in Europe and Japan. He used part of the money to buy his parents a home in Texas.

"He's finally getting what he deserves in his own country," said Carl Lewis, 33, the sport's aging superstar, who finished second the long jump with a distance of 27 feet, 8 3/4 inches. "We compete for the fun, but we compete as businessmen, too. I hope we find 10 more Michael Johnsons and Gwen Torrences out there."

Torrence came into the meet with a damaged knee that caused pain in her right hamstring. She left with titles in the 100 and 200, the second coming in a time of 22.03 yesterday, ahead of second-place Carlette Guidry (22.57) and Celena Mondie-Milner (22.76). Torrence was tied with Guidry, Mondie-Milner and Aspen Burkett at about 90 meters, but put on a burst at 100.

See ya.

"I didn't want to put myself into position where I had to sprint hard or be real aggressive down the stretch because of the injury," said Torrence. "After I made it through the 100-meter race, I put the pain behind me. The 200 is my race. I wanted to win it, and I did. Then it was time to celebrate."

Maybe no one celebrated more than Devers. She started slowly but made up the gap by Hurdle 2. By Hurdle 4, Devers was on her way to winning the 100 hurdles in 12.77. Afterward, she dropped to her back on the track and kicked her legs in the air.

"I've had some injuries, and to come back after the slow start I had made this a real emotional victory," said Devers. "This was a special meet for a lot of people."

Especially for Lewis and Joyner-Kersee, 33, whose careers are coming to a close. Joyner-Kersee, struggling with age, fatigue and asthma, won the heptathlon during the meet's first two days and had a mark of 22-7 to win the long jump yesterday.

Lewis finished second to Mike Powell, 34, whose first jump of 28- 3/4 turned out to be the winner. Streete-Thompson, 22, made the U.S. World Championship team on his last jump of 27-5 1/4 .

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