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Getting on Track

Bailey, Johnson: Not So Fast

by Tim Layden

Posted: Wed July 22, 1998

Sports Illustrated The World's Fastest Human competition between Donovan Bailey and Michael Johnson in June 1997 was an artistic and financial fiasco that did lasting damage to track and field. It also seems that the 150-meter match race at Toronto's SkyDome did little more for its participants than add to their already considerable wealth; neither has been the same athlete since. The two men arrived at the Goodwill Games struggling to regain the form that brought Bailey the '96 Olympic 100-meter gold medal and the world record of 9.84 seconds and carried Johnson to an unprecedented sweep of the Olympic 200 and 400 and a stunning world record of 19.32 in the 200.

IT072701.JPG The injury-plagued Johnson doesn't want to be pitied.    (Bob Martin)
Going into Tuesday's Goodwill 100 meters, Bailey had broken 10 seconds in the 100 just five times (in 22 tries) since the Toronto race—in which Johnson pulled up with a quadriceps injury—and not at all since last August. As he has struggled, Bailey has adopted the surly persona that he affected in promoting the match race. He has made thinly veiled and unsupported charges that 100-meter world champion Maurice Greene and his training partner Ato Boldon use performance-enhancing drugs. Bailey also refuses to run against the two.

When he burst onto the international scene by winning the 100 at the 1995 worlds, Bailey was a delight, a former stockbroker with a sense of humor and just a touch of arrogance. Now he has become more like 1992 Olympic 100 champion Linford Christie of Great Britain, a humorless egomaniac. At least Christie ran fast almost to the end of his career.

As for Johnson, cynics suspected that he faked the injury in the Toronto race. If that was the case, he has kept up the ruse for 14 months. Johnson has in fact suffered injuries to his left Achilles tendon and both hamstrings. Going into Tuesday's Goodwill 400, he hadn't broken 44 seconds at that distance since April 1997 and hadn't cracked 20 seconds in the 200 since the '96 Games.

He says his problems began not in Toronto but in Atlanta. In the 200 that cemented his place in history, Johnson says, he strained his sacroiliac as the result of the immense torque applied to his torso as he blazed through the turn. "Every injury has come from the 19.32 race," he says.

Johnson is healthy now and hopes to dip under 44 flat soon, but injuries have made him beatable. Greene crushed him in a 200 in June, and Mark Richardson and Iwan Thomas of Britain beat him in a 400 in Oslo on July 9. (Johnson won the 400 at 1997's worlds on will alone.) A track nut who relishes competition, Johnson can take the losses. It's the sympathy that drives him nuts. "The worst thing about being injured," he says, "is people are always asking, 'How are you feeling?' I hate that. You just want to say, 'I'm fine, O.K.?'"

Issue date: July 27, 1998

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