No wind can blow away this world record

The Cincinnati Enquirer

ATLANTA - Michael Johnson has set the record straight. He runs like the wind, not because of it.

America's peerless sprinter surpassed a world record for the second straight day Sunday afternoon at the U.S. Track & Field Trials, and also triumphed over the technicalities. Johnson covered 200 meters in 19.66 seconds, and the breeze was but an innocent bystander.

''Gone With The Wind'' is again a movie and no longer an appropriate headline.

Track's oldest individual record had been reprieved Saturday when Johnson's 19.70 semifinal was found to have been run with a prevailing breeze of 6.04 miles per hour. In the finicky world of footraces, this amounts to a gale force, and necessitates an asterisk.

Briefly, Johnson's Saturday standard was invalidated because the wind speed for his race was measured at 2.7 meters per second compared to the allowable limit of 2.0 meters per second. Perhaps this is an important distinction when dealing in decimals, but track purists don't seem to mind that Pietro Mennea had attained his world record of 19.72 at an altitude of 7,347 feet in Mexico City.

Johnson's next goal: 19.5

Happily, Michael Johnson spared us the aggravation of additional disclaimers Sunday. He justified his place as the central figure of the upcoming Summer Games by bettering Mennea's record, which had stood since 1979, and winning his 21st consecutive outdoor 200. Then, emboldened by this historic dash, Johnson predicted he would improve on it.

''It's going to be faster in another month with the Olympics,'' Johnson said. ''When you've got tougher competition, the speeds can go down even further. I have to believe if I come in fresh, I can run even better. I think I can run 19.5.''

Much as he dominated the U.S. Track Trials, Michael Johnson left the lingering impression that he had hardly tested his limits during the meet. He ran his preliminary heats for place, not time, and was usually sprinting in second gear over the last 30 meters. Wednesday, Johnson ran the fastest 400 meters ever clocked on American soil (43.44), only to fault a flawed start for his failure to set the world record in that event.

En route to the finish line Sunday, Johnson scorched a pair of former 200 gold medalists - Carl Lewis and Michael Marsh - and tempered some of the trash emanating from jive-talking Jeff Williams.

''The only way Michael wins the gold (in the Olympics),'' Williams vows, ''is if they make platinum first place.''

Williams ran second Sunday, nearly five yards behind Johnson at 20.03 seconds. Relatively speaking, he got smoked.

''I guess I scared Mike to a world record today,'' Williams said, laughing at his own presumption. ''Every time he looks up, he's going to see one or two of us coming after him. Right now, he's taking shots at me from the side. Pretty soon, it's going to be from the back.''

Marsh, who finished third at 20.04, wisely adopted a more diplomatic tone.

''Every time I get in a race, I want to concentrate on getting from Point A to Point B as fast as I can,'' he said. ''I had no idea where he (Johnson) was. Maybe it was because he was so far ahead.''

Too fast for England

Johnson has run so dynamically this season that organizers of a July meet in London are attempting to cancel his contract for fear he might traumatize the best British sprinters. It is perhaps the most craven act in that country since Neville Chamberlain returned from Munich.

If they are smart, the organizers will reconsider now. Michael Johnson might intimidate British runners, but he is sure to intrigue British fans. A man who sets a world record so close to the Olympic Games should mean big box office on the European track circuit.

Sunday, Michael Johnson even managed to pique the interest of some Americans. Upon crossing the finish line, he awaited the wind reading and averted his eyes. He figured the fans would let him know if this one counted.

''I knew I would have heard moans and groans (if the wind was too brisk),'' Johnson said. ''I heard yells and screams.''

Tim Sullivan is an Enquirer columnist.

Published June 24, 1996.