Johnson sets out on quest for Olympic double His first race this year is in Mobil Invitational

Track And Field

February 23, 1996|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

FAIRFAX, Va. -- When he walked out of the rain and into the George Mason University Fieldhouse early last night, Michael Johnson wasn't followed by an entourage, only by expectations.

They have been there for a long time: meet after meet, victory after victory, year after year. They have followed Johnson from obscurity in Dallas to worldwide fame, from a nondescript high school career that saw Johnson fail even to win a state championship to his becoming the most dominant figure in track and field.

"You always feel pressure," Johnson said. "But right now the only pressure I feel is for my next race. As we get closer to the Olympic Trials and the Olympics, I'll feel pressure for that."

Johnson's next race will be his first this year. Going into the Mobil Invitational here tomorrow, Johnson has won 49 straight finals in the 400 meters and 16 straight finals in the 200, including a pair of victories at both last year's U.S. nationals in Sacramento and world championships in Goteborg, Sweden.

"Once you get into the season, you get a lot more confidence," said Johnson, 28, who hasn't competed since narrowly beating Frankie Fredericks in the 200 meters in Tokyo last September. "The first race of the season, you don't know what to expect."

Expect Johnson to win. It was during last year's indoor season that Johnson pulled off another kind of double: He broke the world record in the 400 meters twice in 15 days, first in Reno, Nev., and later in Atlanta.

Johnson, who'll run only the 400 tomorrow, also set a meet record of 45.55 at the Mobil Invitational. John Cook, the George Mason track coach who doubles as the meet director, believes only the track prevented Johnson from breaking it a third time.

"He was unfortunate that we didn't have a banked track," Cook said last night.

But the biggest double is yet to come. Johnson is hoping it happens this summer in Atlanta, at the Olympic Games. He will need a little help, not from the competition but from the IAAF, the world's governing body for track and field.

In a decision that could come sometime next month, the IAAF is expected to announce plans to juggle the current schedule in order to accommodate Johnson's attempt to become the first male ever to win both the 200 and 400 in the same Olympics. Valerie Briscoe-Hooks did it in 1984.

Johnson will use the experience of last summer's world championships, where he became the first to win both races, as well as from his disappointment from Barcelona during the 1992 Olympic Games, to help him in Atlanta.

Before the last Summer Olympics, a case of food poisoning sabotaged his performance. Johnson wound up losing nearly 10 pounds. He didn't make the final in the 200 meters, finishing sixth in the semis.

"It's something I can't control," he said. "It can happen again, during the Trials or in training. It can be anything. It can be an injury. It's not something I focus on."

Nor does he worry about the comments of his fellow competitors, who already are trying to play mind games with Johnson. When told that Darnell Hall, an Olympic hopeful in the 400, said that he is a "marked man," Johnson laughed.

"Darnell just came on the scene, he's young," said Johnson. "I've been a marked man since 1990. I enjoy being a marked man. By May or June, Darnell will have a better understanding of what's going on."

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