"Challenge of the Champions"
Michael Johnson v Donovan Bailey
over 150m at Toronto SkyDome
Sunday 1 June, 10.45pm
Live on Eurosport
Prizemoney: $1m to the winner;
both men to receive $500,000 appearance money
Other rivals: None
A brief history
Age 29. Born Dallas. "People who say they can beat Michael Johnson are idiots," Roger Black said after winning the race for Olympic 400m silver in the Texan's gold-shoed wake. Marcus Adam is a rare idiot. Johnson could not catch the Belgrave Harrier on a lap of RAF Cosford's indoor track in his first race in Britain: the 200m in the GB v USA v USSR match in March 1990. Adam also beat him in the Olympic 200m qualifying rounds in 1992. Johnson, however, has since won the world and Olympic titles at both 200m and 400m. Adam was third in the 200m final in the South of England championships last summer.
Age 29. Born Manchester. Manchester, Jamaica, that is - far enough from Old Trafford to be a genuine United fan. Football was his first sporting love. "I played on the left wing," he says. The toe-ender penalty technique on BBC's Sports Review of the Year Show suggests he might not have seen too much of the ball. Emigrated to Canada in 1981. Took Linford Christie's 100m world title in Gothenburg in 1995 (Christie's only loss to him in five races that year). Struck Olympic gold ahead of favourite Frankie Fredericks with a world record 100m run in Atlanta last summer.
Broke Pietro Mennea's 1979 world record for 200m (19.72sec) with a time of 19.66sec in the US Olympic trials last year and then ran a staggering 19.32sec in Atlanta. Also won the 400m in 43.39sec (second only to Butch Reynolds' 1988 world record, 43.29sec). Has a best 100m time of 10.09 sec but was timed at 9.20 sec for the second half of the Olympic 200m final and 9.18 sec for the second half of his record run in the trials.
Improved Leroy Burrell's world record by 0.01sec with his winning 100m time in Atlanta, 9.84sec. Has a modest 200m best of 20.76sec, however. Hit a peak speed of 12.1m/sec (27.1mph) at 59.8m in the Olympic final. Clocked at a scorching 8.95sec on the anchor leg for Canada's winning 4 x 100m relay. Clocked 14.92sec behind Linford Christie's wind-assisted 14.74sec in a 150m race in Sheffield before the 1995 world championships.
Stumbled off his blocks in the Olympic 200m final. "That cost me at least a few hundredths-of-a-second," he says. "I'm afraid to think what time I might be able to run." His upright style, with little knee lift and rapid, short strides, has been suggested as further room for improvement but is ideal for his unusual build - has an exceptionally long trunk and relatively short legs.
Last off the blocks in the 100m final in Atlanta. Was still only 5th after 20m. "If'd made a better start I would have gone faster," he says. "My pick-up could have been better too. I haven't run my perfect race yet. I wouldn't like to put a figure on what I might run if everything came together." Was also slow off the mark in the world championship 100m final in Gothenburg in 1995.
Points to prove
Has fought an uphill struggle for the attention he deserves in the United States, where track and field ranks as a minority interest sport. "Before the Olympics people were introducing me as Michael Jackson and Michael Jordan," he says. The golden harvest in Atlanta made his name in his homeland. But he still says: "I only really feel appreciated in Europe. That's where track and field really means something."
After the world championship win in 1995, Canada was slow to acclaim another world-beating speed merchant in the chemically clouded wake of Ben Johnson. Since Atlanta, however, Canadians have taken him to their hearts, slighted by the lack of recognition he gets in the US. "North American rivalry is THE big selling point of this race," Ray Flynn, his manager, concedes.
Both men have been in impressive early-season form. Bailey clocked 9.99 sec for 100m in Vancouver last weekend, beating Leroy Burrell by 0.19 sec. Johnson has run 20.05 sec for 200m and 43.75 sec for 400m. Given Bailey's lack of pedigree at 200m and Johnson's at 100m the middle ground of 150m ought to be fair neutral territory. Bailey's explosive finishing would suggest that he has more to come, beyond 100m, but it is difficult to see Johnson losing. Because of the indoor track, the winning time would not qualify as an absolute world record. (In any case, to be accurate, the fastest performances at non-standard distances such as 150m and two miles are technically "bests" and not "records".) However, slicing through the red tape, Pietro Mennea's 14.8 sec seems unlikely to survive as the quickest on record. Old Fart's Almanac says that in 14.57sec Michael Johnson will be feeling a million dollars.