Athletics: Free tickets for fans unhappy at Johnson run

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The Independent Online
Michael Johnson's disappointing contribution to Sunday's night's Spar Challenge has prompted Ian Stewart, the British Athletic Federation's promotions officer, to offer dissatisfied customers free tickets for the Gateshead meeting on 7 September.

The double Olympic champion, racing in Britain for the first time in three years, finished fifth in the 200 metres in 20.87sec - more than one and a half seconds slower than his own world record - and then left before his scheduled 400m relay.

Afterwards, the winner of the 200m, Doug Turner, cast doubt on Johnson's commitment to the race. "I don't think he could be bothered, to tell you the truth," Walker said. "At the end of the day he's here to please the crowd and he's got his cheque."

Johnson, who is believed to have received around $70,000 (pounds 44,000) for Sunday's meeting, did look bothered after the race, slumping down on his own in the warm-up area. But he abandoned the second of his commitments on the night without either explanation or apology. Even for a star, not good PR.

Having persuaded Johnson to return to Britain after the dispute last year, when he refused to run at Crystal Palace after being switched from the 400m to the 200m, Stewart was in an awkward spot on Sunday night.

"It is a little bit disappointing," Stewart ventured. "If anyone writes to me to complain they will be given free tickets to Gateshead."

Stewart said he had been given to understand by Johnson's manager, Brad Hunt, that the world record holder was in reasonable form over 200m, even though he had not run the distance since two early-season efforts.

"He's obviously not in the shape he thought," Stewart said. "I think he put so much into the Athens world championships that he is tired."

But he ruled out any attempt being made to re-coup some of Johnson's appearance money. "A deal's a deal," he said. "I believe in that. It's the first time Michael has run in England for a long while and he will be disappointed. Maybe he can come back in the indoor season."

The fuss over Johnson obscured the fact that, but for a few isolated instances, the meeting lacked a competitive edge.

Bringing Donovan Bailey, the Olympic 100m champion, over to wallop the Brits over 100m had only limited appeal. Had Johnson run anything close to form, he would not have had no a serious challenger, either.

The field events provided the best athletic substance of the evening, with Steve Backley being narrowly defeated by the man who beat him to the world javelin title, Marius Corbett, and the Britons Robert Weir and Sean Pickering giving the world champion, John Godina, a throw for his money in the discus and shot, respectively.

But you would hardly have known it. More needs to be done to prime the spectators who did part with up to pounds 18 apiece on Sunday. The faulty scoreboard was nothing less than an insult to every paying customer. The Spar Challenge on Sunday was to work out what was going on in front of your eyes.