Johnson in a class of one

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The Independent Online
NORMAN FOX

With all proper deference to the achievements of Jonathan Edwards, the hop-step-and-jump will never quite rid itself of its school sports image. When the time comes to put these World Championships into perspective, the competitor most likely to be remembered is another upright man, Michael Johnson, yesterday's overwhelming winner of the 400 metres and favourite for the 200.

The 27-year-old Texan has not lost a one-lap event for five years and 56 races and yesterday he was never likely to relinquish that record. Britain's Roger Black, the silver medal winner four years ago, and Mark Richardson were not alone in being outclassed by this pillar-straight phenomenon, who is continually asked why he runs in his erect style and continually says that is the way he has always done it. If any coach can ever change him for the better, the rest of the world's 200 and 400m men may as well take up something different. As it is, Black calls him a man "on a different planet".

If Edwards is aesthetic and unworldly, Johnson is an imposing, dominating superstar up there with Jesse Owens and Carl Lewis. No one has ever won both events at a world championships and no one would bet against Johnson. He is the only man ever to run the 200 in less than 20 seconds as well as the 400 in under 44 seconds.

Yesterday Johnson came to the shoulder of the world record holder, Butch Reynolds, on the last bend and relegated him to second without apparent effort. He pulled away and a cynic might have accused him of slowing down towards the line to save the world record for a more profitable day on the grand prix circuit. As it was his time of 43.39sec was the second fastest of all time and left Reynolds some six metres behind.

Darnell Hall, the American who finished sixth, admitted: "He's in a class of his own. He could run the race any way he wanted and the result would have been the same. It's going to take the rest of us a few more years to find out how he runs like that. He's at a point where he could break that world record at any time. If money's at stake, he'll do it."

Reynolds agreed: "He was unbeatable out there. I didn't have the speed when he came after me. I don't like getting beaten that way but we'll all get used to it."

Johnson himself came off the track thinking less of a celebration than an early night in preparation for this morning's 200m heats. "I came here with the object of winning both, so I'm only half way. I'm not letting myself be happy. I ran differently today - my own race, but I waited until 150 metres to go before I decided I had the race won.

"I was a little disappointed not to break the world record, but the time has given me confidence. I know I can break the world record later this season when I'm fresher."

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