Superman cut down to size

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The Independent Online
Double Olympic champion Michael Johnson (centre) finishes a disappointing fifth in the 200 metres at Crystal Palace yesterday Photographs: David Ashdown

Michael Johnson, who brandished a Superman top after retaining his world 400 metres title earlier this month, looked more like Clark Kent here yesterday as he was beaten into fifth place in the Spar Challenge 200 metres.

It was only his second defeat over this distance since May 1990. Last year at the Oslo Grand Prix, the double Olympic silver medallist Frankie Fredericks beat him on the line; yesterday Johnson was crowded out by three Britons and a Latvian.

The winner in 20.73sec, Doug Turner, was less than impressed by the commitment of the American, who is thought to have received close to $100,000 (pounds 64,000) in appearance fees from the British Athletic Federation.

"I don't think he could be bothered, to tell you the truth," Walker said. "At the end of the day he's here to please the crowd and he's got his cheque."

Johnson was due to compete in the final event of the evening, the 400m relay, but by the time it began he had already left in a car, telling an official that he "felt flat."

At least he wasn't flat broke. He received a reported figure of $30,000 for promotional work before his planned appearance at Sheffield last month, with a balance of around $70,000 due for competing.

Johnson, who will be 30 next month, pulled out of Sheffield following his heavy defeat four days beforehand in Paris - where his seven-year unbeaten run over 400m ended with a fifth place. One assumes the balance was paid yesterday.

The double Olympic champion's season has been disrupted by the injury he incurred in the $1m One-to-One Challenge against Donovan Bailey in Toronto on 1 June. On Friday he described this season as the most difficult he had had because it was impossible for him to tell in what kind of shape he was in at any given time.

He won narrowly over 400m in Zurich on Wednesday, but gave the impression over the final 10 metres of a car running out of petrol. Yesterday he seemed not to move out of third gear.

This was the first time Johnson had appeared in Britain since an indoor appearance at Birmingham in 1994. He was involved in a row with BAF officials last year after being switched from the 400 to the 200m for a pre-Olympic meeting here - supposedly to save British runners from an untimely defeat.

Johnson, who refused the option, said his preparations had been disrupted and claimed payment in full.

Marcus Adam, the former Commonwealth champion, was second yesterday in 20.74, thus maintaining a bizarrely successful record against the double Olympic champion - he has won five of their eight meetings, although two of those were recorded in the rounds at the Barcelona Olympics, where Johnson was hampered by food poisoning.

There was no suggestion here, however, that illness or injury had contributed to a result as crushing to Johnson as his defeat in Paris.

After finishing in 20.87, more than one and a half seconds outside his world record, he paced all the way back round the track afterwards, with the rest of the field trailing him - a scenario which has become familiar in stadia all over the world.

Johnson made his solitary way to the warm-up area before slumping down against a wall and waving away invitations to explain his performance. Kryptonite, perhaps?

In contrast to Johnson, Turner turned up for, in his words, "hundreds". The 30-year-old from Newport says he receives no financial support whatsoever.

He maintains he is banned by the International Amateur Athletic Federation from making any kind of living outside the country at the moment while the BAF attempts to clarify details of a three-month ban he served for taking banned stimulants.

BAF maintain there is no ban, but they are seeking a fact-finding meeting with Turner, who failed to notify them that he received the ban from the Scottish Games Association after testing positive for ephedrine at the Powderhall Sprint on 31 December.

Turner ran a full indoor season, going to the world indoor championships, but technically he served his ban with the SGA - who have no affiliation with the BAF- by not competing in any of their events from January to March. Not that there were any to compete in.

There was no embarrassment for the meeting's other big-name signing, Donovan Bailey. The Olympic 100m champion was virtually unchallenged as he won in 10.13sec. Dwain Chambers, Britain's 19-year-old world junior record holder, finished third in 10.31.

Of Britain's world silver medallists, Colin Jackson won his 110m hurdles in 13.21, but Jonathan Edwards and Steve Backley both had to settle for silver. Edwards finished 4cm behind fellow Briton Francis Agyepong, who triple-jumped 16.88m, and Backley was 32cm short of the winning javelin effort of 87.46m by Marius Corbett, the South African who took the world title.

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