World is left to marvel at magic of Johnson

WORLD ATHLETICS CHAMPIONSHIPS
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The Independent Online
Michael Johnson lay down on the Ullevi stadium track here last night with arms and legs sprawled out and a smile upon his face. He deserved the rest, having completed an unprecedented double by adding the 200 metres title to the 400 metres gold medal he had won two days earlier.

As he crossed the line in his familiar, straight-backed style, his face contorted in frustration as he saw the digital clock stopped at 19.79 seconds. Only the same as his previous personal best. Only the fifth fastest ever run. The frustration was a measure of Johnson's pre-eminence, and the standards he sets for himself.

Next year he is still hoping that the Olympic timetable will be further modified to allow him to repeat his double. And of course there is still Pietro Mennea's 16-year-old high altitude world record of 19.72sec to be dealt with.

But, for now, Johnson is entitled to celebrate, and last night he did - the face that is so serious in repose breaking into wide smiles as he made his lap of honour.

Having missed Butch Reynolds's 400 metres record of 43.29sec by a tenth of a second on Wednesday, Johnson could afford a little joke: "Story of the week: very close to the world record."

He does not feel he will have to wait for long, however. "I am very confident that one if not both of those records will fall before the end of the season."

For John Regis, a world bronze medallist in 1987 and silver medallist in Stuttgart two years ago, there was to be no ideal progression as he finished seventh in 20.67sec. Having only made the final on a photo- finish, he received the worst draw he could have had. Lane one is difficult for most runners, and particularly so for one as chunky as Regis.

The defending champion, Frankie Fredericks of Namibia, who said he had been hampered by pulling his hamstring in the semi-final, came through strongly at the end for silver in 20.12, with Jeff Williams of the United States taking bronze in 20.18.

Johnson's margin of victory equalled that he achieved in winning the 1991 200 metres final. Nobody has won by more over 200 metres in a global final since Jesse Owens at the 1936 Olympics.

Kim Batten made her own bit of history by breaking Sally Gunnell's world record in a superbly competitive 400 metres hurdles title. Batten ran 52.61sec, pushed all the way to the line by her fellow American Tonja Buford, whose time of 52.62 was also inside the mark of 52.74 Gunnell set in holding off the challenge of Sandra Farmer-Patrick at the last World Championships.

It was literally a dream performance for Batten. The night before, she said, she dreamed she had broken the world record. "I woke up and I thought, `Oh God, I hope I am not going to put myself off', because I have a tendency to go out like a bat out of hell sometimes." Buford closed on her after clearing the final hurdle a fraction behind, but Batten's dip on the line made her dream come true.

Gunnell, absent with an Achilles tendon injury, was dismayed as she commentated from the stands for BBC television. "It never rains but it pours," she said. "I'm a bit shocked, but it's going to make me even more determined to bounce back in the Olympics next year."

Sergei Bubka also created his own World Championship record - he has won at every one since 1983. Title number five arrived thanks to a vault of 5.92 metres which was enough to beat the opposition. He then made three decent but unsuccessful attempts at raising his world record by a centimetre - nice and easy does it with those grand prix meetings looming - to 6.15.

Moses Kiptanui took Kenya's first gold of the Championships, and his third consecutive world 3,000 metres steeplechase title, with an apparent simplicity which was confirmed by his comments after finishing in 8min 04.16sec.

"It was a very, very easy race for me," he said. "I could have broken the world record, but 400 metres before the finish I saw that the others were way behind so I decided to save it for Zurich." So that's that settled then. It will go nicely with the 5,000 metres world record of 12min 55.30sec which Kiptanui set earlier this season.

The Kenyan, one of Kim McDonald's group based in Teddington, said he will continue with the steeplechase until after the Olympics. After that, presumably, he will leave it open for his young compatriot, Christopher Koskei, who took silver in 8.09.30. Koskei runs in bare feet, and Kiptanui has said he will persuade him to race in shoes - but not for a year or so yet. "When he races in shoes, he will break the world record," Kiptanui said.

Kelly Holmes, clearly recovered after the anti-climax which followed her 1500 metres silver medal win, safely reached tomorrow's 800 metres title, where her chances of a further medal will be increased by the absence of Maria Mutola, who was disqualified.

The world champion, unbeaten in 43 races before yesterday, appeared to have confirmed her status as favourite in crossing the line in 1min 58.21sec. But video evidence showed that she had stepped on the line several times before the field broke from their lanes. A lucky break perhaps for Ana Fidelia Qirot, the Cuban who has returned to the track after suffering near fatal burns two years ago.

Gary Lough reached the 1500m final, and Steve Backley and Mick Hill qualified for tomorrow's javelin final with first efforts of 83.20 and 83.54 respectively.

At 5,000 metres, John Nuttall qualified for tomorrow's final as a fastest loser, but Rob Denmark, disappointingly, went out after finishing sixth in his heat.

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