Richardson runs Johnson close

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The finale to last night's Golden League meeting here was a rendition by Gloria Gaynor of her disco classic 'I Will Survive". It might have been sung in Mark Richardson's honour.

The finale to last night's Golden League meeting here was a rendition by Gloria Gaynor of her disco classic 'I Will Survive". It might have been sung in Mark Richardson's honour.

The Briton, who may well see the prospect of the Olympic Games vanish in front of him next month if the International Amateur Athletics Federation confirm his two-year ban for nandrolone abuse, produced a performance of virtually existential courage at the Ivo Van Damme Memorial meeting as he finished second to the 400 metres world record holder Michael Johnson. Such was his commitment that he entered the final straight level with the phenomenal American, who was making his first appearance in five weeks since pulling up injured during the US Olympic trials. Inevitably, Johnson reconfirmed his position as favourite to retain his Olympic title as he pulled clear to win in 44.07sec.

But Richardson, who is effectively running in a void as he waits to hear whether the IAAF will overturn UK Athletics's decision to clear him, just as they did with his three British colleagues - Linford Christie, Gary Cadogan and Doug Walker - earlier this week, kept in touch to finish in 44.72sec ahead of Mexico's world bronze medallist Alejandro Cardenas, who recorded 45.29. The performance allowed Richardson to overtake his compatriot Jamie Baulch - eighth last night in a disappointing 46.32 - at the top of the European standings. But tantalisingly, it also indicated his potential to challenge for a medal in Sydney should be he given the opportunity.

"This shows that I don't have to cheat," Richardson said. "I'm going out there showing what I'm capable of. To come out and run second to a world-class field like that - I amazed myself.

"You have only to race a field like that to raise your own game. I want to get as much out of the season as I possibly can."

Richardson, understandably, deferred the question of whether he was an Olympic medal contender. "I'm just taking one race at a time," he said. "I'm doing Gateshead on Monday and hopefully Berlin the following Friday. I'm not looking any further at the moment."

He said that racing effectively in limbo made him "a lot more relaxed - I'm going out there and I've got nothing to lose. I've not done the preparatory work and my mind hasn't been on the job.

"I just don't understand this week. There are some things that have been said - the authorities seem to be prejudging my case. But I will do anything in my power to prove I am innocent, even if they want to lock me away in a lab."

Asked to assess Johnson's prospects in his first race back, Richardson responded with a shrug: "He's bullet proof."

That discussion would appear to be equally apt for Johnson's colleague Maurice Greene, who broke down alongside him in the 200m final at the US trials and has made a similarly resonant reappearance. Greene won last night's 100m with a flourish in 9.88sec, his fastest time of the year. It was a performance which made a field including training partner Ato Boldon - who was third in 10.02 - and Britain's Darren Campbell fifth in 10.10 - appear relatively pedestrian.

Greene's compatriot Marion Jones also reimposed her authority on the 100m event after missing last week's Golden League meeting in Monaco, finishing a metre clear last night in 10.83sec.

Katharine Merry, making her comeback after the stomach upset which caused her to miss the British Olympic trials, could only manage 50.56sec in the 400m and had to settle for fifth place in a race won by Australia's Olympic favourite Cathy Freeman in 49.78sec. Ominously for Merry, Ana Guevara of Mexico and Falilat Ogunkoya of Nigeria established their medal potential by taking second and third place in 50.21 and 50.49 respectively.

There was disappointment for another Briton whose performances this season have seen him earn a position of a potential medallist in Sydney. Chris Rawlinson, whose season has been a story of ups and downs, hit a low point in the 400m hurdles last night finishing eighth in 49.62sec. Well ahead of him, South Africa's Llewellyn Herbert maintained his recent surge in form by winning in 48.30.

There was another upset in the 800m, where world champion Wilson Kipketer of Denmark was run into third place by Algeria's Djabir Faid-Guerni, who won in 1min 43.25sec to keep alive his chance of winning a share in the Golden League jackpot of 50kilos of gold on offer to those winning five of the seven Series meetings.

The 10,000m was won by Kenya's Paul Tergat, although his time of 27:03.87 was more than half a minute slower than the world record he set here three years ago and is unlikely to convince the Kenyan selectors to drop one of the three runners already selected to run this event at the Olympics.