Johnson is ready for record feats

Mike Rowbottom previews tonight's meeting in Zurich, the richest on the European circuit
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The Independent Online
The meeting they call the Two-Hour Olympics takes place in Zurich tonight, and a total budget of pounds 3m - making the meeting the richest on the European Athletics circuit - will ensure that a handful of world records are under threat, including two of the sport's landmarks.

Michael Johnson, the newly-installed double world champion at 200 and 400 metres, said after his performances in Gothenburg last week that he felt he could break the record in at least one, if not both events before the end of the season.

He runs at 400m tonight, seven years after his US compatriot Butch Reynolds set the current world record of 43.29sec on the same track.

Reynolds, who has since completed a four-year ban for a doping offence, took silver behind Johnson in Gothenburg and is in a field today that also includes the third leading American, Darnell Hall.

Johnson will earn a fortune if he breaks Reynolds' record. The organisers will fork out pounds 35,000 and a 1kg gold bar worth around pounds 8,000 for the record. On top of that there is Johnson's appearance fee, plus a likely sponsor's bonus.

The meeting organiser, Res Bruegger, is also organising a serious pacemaking attempt in the 800m in order to give the world champion, Wilson Kipketer of Denmark, a shot at Sebastian Coe's 14-year-old world record of 1min 41.73sec.

Kipketer, who ran the fifth fastest time ever shortly before the world championships, has been highly praised by experts, including Coe, as a man with potential to challenge that world mark. Colin Jackson, who returns to top-flight 110m hurdling here after injury problems, has been given an extra incentive to perform well by his successor as world champion.

Allen Johnson, of the United States, said he was more worried about racing the silver medallist at Gothenburg, Tony Jarrett, rather than the man who missed the championships with an abductor muscle injury.

Jackson came back last weekend after a month-long absence with a respectable winning time of 13.16sec at a small Swiss meeting. But Johnson maintained: "I think Jarrett is the bigger threat. He is the toughest hurdler I have ever competed against. Last year, Colin was head and shoulders above everyone. He would win by two, three, four metres.

"I don't believe for one minute he is past his best. He is still only 28, with at least another four quality years left in him. But the gap has closed. We have all worked harder to try to reach the standards he set.''

Moses Kiptanui of Kenya has singled out this meeting for a new world steeplechase record. Kiptanui, who set the present mark of 8min 02.08sec three years ago at Zurich's Letzigrund Stadium, claimed he could have broken it when retaining the world title last week.

Now he plans to take it out of reach of the next generation by dipping under eight minutes.

Algeria's world 1,500m champion, Noureddine Morceli, may have a chance of improving his world best for the mile if the weather conditions are good.

France's world 400m champion, Marie-Jose Perec, takes on the new world record holder, Kim Batten of the United States, in the women's 400m hurdles.