Gold's only half story for Johnson, Reynolds One wants 400 mark, other wants respect

June 19, 1996|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

ATLANTA -- Their rivalry is based as much on what each doesn't have as on what each does.

Michael Johnson is the most celebrated athlete in track and field, and one of the richest, the man looking to become the first in Olympic history to win both the 400 meters and 200 meters in the same Games. Butch Reynolds is among the most controversial, and the two-year ban that resulted from a positive drug test left him financially and emotionally spent.

Tonight, they will be after the same thing: a place on the U.S Olympic team. But when they take the track at Olympic Stadium for the start of the 400-meter final, Johnson and Reynolds might be looking to take away a piece of each other's history.

For Johnson, it will be the chance to break the world record of 43.29 seconds Reynolds set in Zurich, Switzerland, eight years ago. For Reynolds, it will be the opportunity to end Johnson's 52-race winning streak that dates to 1989.

"I feel like Butch and I have a friendly rivalry," Johnson, 28, said here last week. "It stays on the track and that's what I enjoy. I think it's good for the sport. As far as the times that Butch has put out there, of course that's the standard every quarter-miler looks at.

"It's something I feel like is achievable. I feel like I can break the world record. I feel like I'm capable of running quite a bit faster than that -- 42 seconds is even possible. So I'm taking it step by step."

Reynolds doesn't quite look at the rivalry the same way. Perhaps it comes from the fact that few seem to remember that Reynolds, not Johnson, holds the world record. Or maybe it stems from Johnson what happened at last year's national championships in Sacramento, Calif., when Johnson signaled victory by raising his hands before he crossed the finish line.

"It's about respect," said Reynolds, who came in second. "Let's save the dancing for the dance floor. I've run against a lot of people in my life. I've beaten a lot of people in my life. But I haven't danced on anybody yet."

Their careers have seemingly gone in opposite directions, as if they passed each other on the same fast track.

Johnson's star was rising from obscurity at about the same time that Reynolds' had plummeted, the result of testing positive for steroid use after a meet in Monte Carlo in August 1990.

Though the U.S. Track and Field Federation cleared Reynolds the following year, the sport's international governing body would not. He went to the U.S. Supreme Court and won the right to compete in the 1992 Olympic trials in New Orleans, but finished fifth in the final. He went to Barcelona as an alternate on the 4 x 400 relay team, though it was doubtful he would have been allowed to compete because of the international ban.

"It's hard to swallow," said Reynolds, who saw a six-figure income from endorsements and appearance fees evaporate and suffered a number of personal setbacks, including his wife's miscarriage.

"They made me look like a cheater in front of my friends and peers in order to protect the system. This year is for Butch. I want to break my world record. I want to win a gold medal. I want to do something for myself."

Should Reynolds do either, his financial situation would improve dramatically. Initially awarded $27.2 million in damages after a federal judge in Columbus, Ohio -- the same town where Reynolds starred at Ohio State -- ruled that the drug-test result was incorrect, Reynolds saw the ruling later overturned.

As a result, Olympic athletes must agree to go before an arbitrator rather than a judge in the event of a disputed drug test.

"I starting running track because it was an individual sport," said Reynolds. "I thought that as long as you stayed in your lane, no one can touch you. Not only did they knock me out of my lane, but they knocked me out of the sport for 2 1/2 years. It ruined my life."

Now he will try to knock Johnson off the throne on which he's sat for the past few years. Given the talented quarter-milers in this country, the streak is a remarkable achievement. But it's only part of Johnson's personal countdown to the Olympics.

Becoming the first man to win the 200 and the 400 in the same Olympics is what drives Johnson. Reynolds The races leading up to the Atlanta Games are simply an extension of his training sessions back home in Dallas.

While others have taken notice of the way he stopped running hard at the end of his first three heats at the trials, Johnson said there is no hidden meaning. "I don't think I have to make any statements," he said. "The most important thing is to make the team, to finish in the top three. Not expending a lot of energy will help me on Wednesday. It's [winning] important to me. I go out there to win. If you go out there to finish third, you might finish fourth."

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