Johnson's quick start

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The Independent Online
Nearly nine months after setting the 200 metres world record at the Olympic Games in Atlanta, Michael Johnson ran the fastest time over the distance this year at a meeting in Des Moines, Iowa.

Johnson recorded 20.05sec in his first 200m race of 1997 on Saturday, eclipsing the previous best of 20.09 set by Ato Boldon.

"It felt good," Johnson said. "I didn't come in expecting any particular time, so I'm pleased with my time. The race felt real good. It felt pretty smooth throughout."

The victory did not come without some effort. Obadele Thompson, fourth in the Olympic finals last summer, was running with Johnson on the curve, but Johnson, clad in shiny purple shoes, surged in front after completing the turn and held off the sprinter in the straight.

Afterwards Johnson praised the sprinter from Texas. "He's a great athlete," said Johnson, who set a world record of 19.32 in the Olympic finals and also won the 400m at Atlanta. "He got injured last year and came back and got fourth at the Olympics. You can't take someone like that lightly."

It was the first of three 200m races Johnson will run in preparation for his 150m match race with the Olympic 100m champion, Donovan Bailey, in Toronto on 1 June. He will run in Brazil next Saturday and again in Eugene, Oregon, on 25 May.

Johnson began his season last weekend by running a 43.75sec 400m at Waco, Texas. That, plus Saturday's race, indicates Johnson is in excellent shape.

Last year, he ran his first 200m in 20.20 and his first 400 in 44.41.

"It's just a matter of I'm a year older, I've had a year's more experience now, I've been able to train more this year than I did last year," Johnson said.