Johnson exults at 400 record

U.S. sprinter lays claim to another world mark, clips 0.11 off time

August 27, 1999

SEVILLE, Spain -- With his churning legs a blur and his feet flashing gold, Michael Johnson did it again.

Johnson shattered another world record last night -- this time, breaking the 400-meter mark with a sensational clocking of 43.18 seconds at the world championships.

In clipping 0.11 of a second off the record of 43.29 set by Butch Reynolds in 1988, the confident, highly focused Johnson gave a performance reminiscent of his 200-meter triumph at the 1996 Olympics. With his all-gold shoes flashing on the Atlanta track, he clocked an astounding 19.32, cracking his 200 world record by 0.34.

Though the difference was not as huge this time, Johnson and his black-and-gold shoes still left his pursuers far behind, with runner-up Sanderlei Parrela of Brazil more than one second back at 44.29.

But just like Atlanta, as Johnson crossed the finish line, he spread both hands out toward the crowd and smiled broadly. Then, he stood next to the field clock that showed his time.

After receiving congratulations from the other runners, he lay down on the track for a minute, soaking up the applause. He then rose and began his victory lap, carrying an American flag, by slapping hands with fans.

Afterward, Johnson said he could run even faster.

"I can do better, but it's a world record. I broke the world record in the 200 and then shattered it," he said, referring first to his 19.66 at the 1996 U.S. championships at Atlanta. "I think I can do the same thing in the 400."

It was only the second time in 31 years that the 400 record has been broken. Lee Evans' record of 43.86, set in the 1968 Mexico Olympics, stood for 20 years before Reynolds broke it.

Johnson is the second runner to hold both long sprint records at the same time. The other was Tommie Smith, who owned the 220-yard record from 1966 to 1968 and the 440-yard mark from 1967 to 1968.

Michael Conley, the 1992 Olympic triple jump champion and now elite athlete coordinator for USA Track and Field, said Johnson can break the 43-second barrier -- and in the not-too-distant future.

"I think he'll go 42.90-something this year," Conley said. "You get a meet where he doesn't have to run rounds and he can do it."

Johnson ranks as perhaps the most dominating track and field athlete of the 1990s. The record capped a remarkable decade in which he broke two records, became the first man to sweep the 200 and 400 at the same Olympic Games (1996) and the first to sweep both long sprints at the world championships (1995). He also won four consecutive world titles in the 400 and he won 200 world titles.

Johnson's 400 world record is the first broken at the championships and earned Johnson a $100,000 bonus, on top of the $60,000 for the victory.

In winning, Johnson also tied Carl Lewis for the most gold medals at the championships with eight. He can break that record Sunday as the anchor on the United States' 1,600-meter relay team in the final event.

Yesterday's other three finals produced two championship records.

Maksim Tarasov extended Russia's domination of the men's pole vault -- Sergei Bubka won the event at the first six championships -- by winning at 19 feet, 9 inches.

Ethiopia's Gete Wami, the 1996 Olympic bronze medalist in the women's 10,000 meters, took 16 seconds off the championship record, beating Britain's Paula Radcliffe by more than two seconds at 30: 24.56.

In the other final, Australia's Cathy Freeman, who in 1997 became the first aboriginal to win a world title, won the women's 400 again at 49.67, the second-fastest in the world this year.

Meanwhile, Marion Jones, the women's 100-meter gold medalist and long jump bronze medalist, was declared out of the championships one day after pulling up in the semifinals of the 200 with back pain and spasms. Jones, who had declared her intention of winning an unprecedented four golds, was to have been a member of one of the U.S. relay teams.

Jones was still being re-evaluated and her participation again this season is uncertain.

Pub Date: 8/27/99

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