Big day comes 4 years later Johnson, O'Brien near their goals

Atlanta Olympics

August 01, 1996|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

ATLANTA -- Dan O'Brien wants to make up for not getting to Barcelona, Spain, four years ago. Michael Johnson wants to make up for what happened once he got there.

Today, both will get their chance.

O'Brien, who failed to get to the 1992 Olympics after no-heighting during the pole vault portion of the decathlon at the U.S. track and field trials, and Johnson, who failed to reach the final in the 200 meters there after coming down with food poisoning, each took a step toward permanently erasing those dark memories.

O'Brien, whom most consider the world's greatest athlete, will be looking for his first individual gold medal when the decathlon finishes today. Johnson certainly will be the most marketable in his sport should he become the first man to win the 200 meters to back up his victory in the 400 Monday.

Johnson finished the first two preliminary heats with a best time of 20.37 seconds, behind Trinidad and Tobago's Ato Boldon and Cuba's Ivan Garcia and right ahead of the man who stopped his winning streak last month in Europe, Frankie Fredericks, as well as reigning Olympic champion Mike Marsh.

"I feel like I can win the race from anywhere on the track," said Johnson, 28. "I've done that before. When I lose a race by three-hundredths of a second because of a mistake I've made, I learn a valuable lesson. That's what happened in Oslo. Making a mistake in the start will be the last thing that will happen here."

In that race against Fredericks, Johnson got left in the blocks and couldn't make up the difference. But Johnson will have a distinct advantage here, having set his world record of 19.66 seconds on the same track at last month's Olympic trials. He also will have a crowd of better than 80,000 on his side.

"They're a big motivator for me," he said.

Boldon, who won a bronze medal in the 100, said the only way Johnson will lose is if one of his shoes falls off.

Said Johnson: "I'll make sure to tie my shoes up good."

O'Brien simply will keep doing what he did at last month's Olympic trials, when he overcame a first-day deficit to Chris Huffins and won easily. Going into the sec- ond half of the Olympic competition, O'Brien will take a 124-point lead over Frank Busemann of Germany. Huffins is in fourth place, 144 points behind.

"It was a tough day, a long day," said O'Brien. "It's not too bad to get out of here and get it over with and get to sleep at a decent hour. I fought all day to forget it was the Olympic Games. When I thought about the Olympic Games and trying to win the gold, it was just overwhelming."

Earlier, another pre-Olympic favorite did not fare so well. Ireland's Sonia O'Sullivan, who as reigning world champion had to pull out of the 5,000 meters a little more than midway through the race, failed to make it out of the qualifying round for the 1,500 meters.

Pub Date: 8/01/96

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