Johnson pumps up the hype

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The Independent Online
Athletics

A week before his million-dollar Challenge of Champions race against Donovan Bailey, Michael Johnson made it clear that the rivalry between the two is far from friendly.

"I don't respect him as a man who claims to be a good person, a fair person," Johnson said of the Olympic 100 metre champion," because he's done some things I think are contrary to that."

In preparation for the 1 June 150 metres race in Toronto, in which each runner is guaranteed $500,000 [pounds 312,500], with another $1m going to the winner, Johnson had plenty of examples to offer of Bailey's bad attitude.

"Training in the United States under an American coach and calling the American public ignorant," he said, referring to comments Bailey made after not making the cover of Sports Illustrated following the Olympics.

"By not respecting me and what I've done out on the track when I respect him and what he's done out on the track. If he doesn't like me, I have no problem with that. There's a lot of people that don't like me. But to disrespect what I've done and not have respect for me and what I've done on the track and the dues I've paid and how hard I've worked to get there, with that I have a problem."

In Eugene, Oregon, to run the 200m in yesterday's Prefontaine Classic, Johnson sounded like a boxer stoking up the hype. "I think it's his immaturity in the sport," he said. "He has not been in the sport long enough to know that you've got to give the fans more than one good race."

Johnson said that, after beating Bailey, he will welcome challenges from all-comers. "I'll take on anyone at 150 metres any time they want to, anywhere they want to," he said. "If they want to test me by breeding someone to run against me, fine. I'm ready for it."

Sergei Bubka, the pole vault world record-holder, has withdrawn from the Challenge of Champions because of injury. Bubka was supposed to compete against the South African, Okkert Brits, as part of the Johnson-Bailey undercard. Lawrence Johnson, the US record-holder, will deputise.

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