Johnson jogs his last, readies for 400 final U.S. star eases up again in heat, sets sights on gold, world mark tonight

Atlanta Olympics

July 29, 1996|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

ATLANTA -- The waiting is nearly over for Michael Johnson, who cruised through his final qualifying heat yesterday and will go for his first gold medal of the XXVI Olympiad in the 400-meter final tonight.

He is making it look almost too easy, pulling up at the end of each heat to conserve energy and -- perhaps unintentionally -- let it be known to all of his opponents that he is so fast that there isn't any point in dreaming.

Tonight, he says, will be different.

"I won't be looking around [tonight]," Johnson said after he jogged in at 44.59, just ahead of Jamaica's Roxbert Martin and Ugandan Davis Kamoga. "[Tonight] is a competition day. I won't be worrying about strategy."

The world has been waiting, too, to see if Johnson is as good as he seems, and waiting for the world record to fall like the summer rain that has drenched Olympic Stadium the past two days.

"I want to say that the fact that I'm out there means that the world record could fall," Johnson said, "but that might sound arrogant. I want to do my best and I feel if I do my best, I've got a chance to set a world record."

He wants everyone to believe that a gold medal is enough, but of course, it is not. The buildup has been too big. The 100-meter record fell Saturday night. Butch Reynolds' 400 record time of 43.29 in 1988 has to go for Michael Johnson to live up to the hype.

"I certainly hope that when I look up at the clock that I see a world record," he said, "but that's not the objective. I'll use [ex-Morgan State star] Jack Pierce as an example, because he's a friend of mine. Going for a world record cost him a berth on this Olympic team."

Pierce tied the American record in a preliminary heat of the 110-meter hurdles at the Olympic trials and -- instead of concentrating on being among the top three finishers in the qualifying final -- went for the world record. He didn't get it. He hit the second hurdle and fell on the third, which may have cost him Olympic gold.

Johnson is determined not to do anything to defeat himself. That's why he went back to Texas after the opening ceremonies and continued training. That's why he has jogged home at the end of each of his qualifying heats. He has tried to conserve every ounce of energy he has, so he'll be at his best tonight and still have something left for the 200 meters and the 800-meter relay.

He will face only one other American in the race. Alvin Harrison qualified, but Reynolds' quest to join Johnson on the medal stand ended in agony in last night's first heat when he pulled up after the first 100 yards and crumpled to the track with cramped hamstrings.

"It's disappointing that he's not going to be in the race . . . that he's not going to be out there," Johnson said, "because I was looking forward to an American sweep. But I'm glad tomorrow is the final. I'm glad to have the last three days out of the way and that I'm going to be competing against the best in the world.

"I'll be ready to run. I'm not going to take anybody for granted. Anybody who qualifies for the final at the Olympics is a worthy competitor. I'm going to run my best race and leave nothing to chance."

Pub Date: 7/29/96

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