Golden feat that left Games in a blur

Norman Fox reports from a city bewitched by the brilliance of Johnson
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The Independent Online
Everything that has happened on the track in the Centennial Stadium here since Thursday is seen as being in the new era of Michael Johnson. Nothing could compare with what the Americans love to call a "defining moment". Someone asked another American sprinter, Derek Mills, to describe Johnson and he said: "You try to remember that he is just a man."

Yesterday and the previous day the stadium has seen good performances, but by athletes who will be remembered as those who also took part in the "Games of Michael Johnson".

The man himself spent Friday trying to explain his own performances and talking about his peculiar style, his training, his philosophy, his future, his home, his mother's brother's best friend's dog - anything remotely connected with him or his family. He is not given to explaining much about himself except that he tends to be a perfectionist in everything. He will spend a whole morning shopping for one new shirt. Anyone seeing his performances here will go home saying that they saw an athlete who came as near as they are likely to see to perfection.

How does he do it? Attention to detail in everything is one reason. Every minute of his life seems meticulously planned, as are his races, but then there is that curious physique and, even more odd, his soldier-straightbacked running style. The two are inextricably linked. One of his most influential coaches, Clyde Hart, said: "We noticed straight away that he ran strangely. He's tall and short at the same time. He's 6ft 1in going on 5ft 8in if you look at his lower body. He's got a long back but he's short between the knee and ankle." Hart said nobody had developed Johnson's style, but his natural stride was comparatively short and his low "lift" gave him more "power paces" than most other runners. Only a theory, but believable. Hart said that more than any physical advantage, Johnson is relentless in pursuit of a goal.

Johnson himself said: "When I first worked with Clyde Hart I thought he was mad. He increased my endurance rate so much that it seemed crazy, but it worked. I wouldn't have been able to run the second 100m here in 9.20sec if it hadn't been for his work-outs, but they were killers."

That second 100m was the most outstanding piece of sprinting most people in the stadium will ever see. Johnson said: "That figure blows me away". Yet he says the world record total time of 19.32sec can be beaten - surely only by him.

He said that he had never before surprised himself. He had always analysed races in advance and knew within two or three tenths of a second what he would achieve.

Before the 200m he said he thought a time of 19.5sec would guarantee him the gold. "When I saw how fast I'd run I felt that I would have liked to have been in with the fans just so that I could have enjoyed seeing myself. You know I'm a real track fan." Curiously, though, he had woken on Thursday morning feeling lethargic. "I slept okay but something was not quite right." His muscles felt tight but he knew he had two races ahead. "I didn't feel so tight that I might snap a hamstring but I'd been sore in a tendon behind my left knee for a few weeks. Then in the race I felt a twinge in my right hamstring. By then, I was almost over the line."

He decided almost immediately that it would not be wise to run in the relay. "What if I'd had to pull up - it could have cost the US a gold medal. I wanted three golds but I suppose I have to be satisfied with two." Suppose! More than anything he is now delighted that he and his advisers pestered the International Olympic Committee to alter the schedule so that he could run the 200m and 400m. They were reluctant but he got his way - he usually does in most things.

His next ambition is to get the 400m world record held by another American, Butch Reynolds, in 43.29sec. "That's not something to aim at this season," he said. Now he intendsrunning in Zurich on 14 August. "For the moment, I'm tired, I want a few days rest. I've had eight races in seven days and that's tiring." And inspiring.

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