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Johnson seals unique double on the track

Michael Johnson Getty

Donovan Bailey may have won the blue riband 100m, but the mantle of Atlanta's greatest sprinter arguably belonged to another athlete. Bailey's achievement had been both spectacular and memorable, but Michael Johnson’s feats over 200m and 400m seemed to redefine the parameters of the possible.

Johnson had been the world's best 400m runner for some years, having broken the Olympic record on his way to winning gold in Barcelona four years earlier. His dominance of the 200m was a more recent phenomenon, but no less spectacular, as he embarked on an almost unbroken run of victories in a two-year period that saw him win the world title and break a world record that had stood for 17 years.

Nobody had ever won the Olympic double of 200m and 400m, and the scheduling of the two events in Atlanta made it unlikely that it was about to happen now. Undaunted, Johnson was determined to make history.

The 400m saw the American start in outstanding form. He set the fastest time in both the quarter-finals and semi-finals and, after earning his place in the final, he threw his running shoes into the crowd. For the gold medal race, he duly took to his blocks sporting some new gold shoes that left nobody in doubt as to his objective. His confidence proved fully justified. Indeed he never looked like losing and took the title by nearly a second – the widest margin of victory ever seen in an Olympic 400m final.

The 200m was expected to be much closer. Namibia's Frankie Fredericks had beaten Johnson just two weeks before the Games and while the American was still the favourite, some wondered whether the exertions of the 400m might count against him.

Both Johnson and Fredericks had qualified with ease for the final. However, when the favourite stumbled slightly as he came out of the blocks, it appeared as if the Namibian would take advantage.

Johnson had other ideas. At the halfway mark he started to move away from the field, leaving them for dust. As he crossed the line, the clock stopped at 19.32 seconds, a simply stunning new world record. Fredericks, in second, actually recorded 19.68 seconds, which would have been a new world record a couple of months earlier.

Ato Boldon came in third and immediately went up to Johnson, congratulated him and bowed down in an act of respect.

Four years later Johnson injured himself during the 200m trials for Sydney 2000 and was unable to defend his title over that distance. He did, however, compete in the 400m, winning gold once more, this time by more than half a second.

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