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Allen Johnson's unexpected hurdle

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Latest: Saturday September 16, 2000 07:55 PM


SYDNEY, Australia -- In 1996 Allen Johnson won an Olympic gold medal in obscurity, taking the 110-meter hurdles on the same night that Michael Johnson cruised in the 400 meters and Carl Lewis captured his fourth consecutive long jump. AJ can live with this, always has. His legacy is sound within the sport; he dominated the sprint hurdles with world titles in '95 and '97, sandwiched around his Olympic title. Johnson has broken 13 seconds far more times than any other man.

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Another Olympic title, however, would surely strengthen his argument as the best in history. After struggling through '99 with a calf injury that kept him out of the Seville worlds, Johnson has had a terrific 2000. His main challenger is Anier Garcia of Cuba, who has improved dramatically throughout the summer. "He's had me in a position where I couldn't catch him in a couple of races this summer," Johnson said Saturday. "That hasn't happened to me very often."

Still, Johnson liked his chances here as the summer unfolded. He is an experienced, poised racer in a nerve-wracking event. Garcia had him dead in Zurich in mid-August, but clubbed the last hurdle and let Johnson catch him. Smart track nuts made Johnson the Sydney favorite.

That all changed a little last weekend when Johnson pulled up three hurdles into a race in Japan, after feeling a slight twinge in his left hamstring. Any injury on the eve of the Olympic Games sets off a tabloid panic, but Johnson insists that he is fine. "I stopped because I felt something, that's all," Johnson said. "I thought to myself, What are you doing? You've got nothing to prove in this race." He hasn't hurdled since arriving in Sydney, but he's done hurdle exercises and says the hamstring is healed. Know this: If it's not, there's no hiding in the hurdles.

For Johnson, there's no hiding in Sydney, either. After living in a hotel in Atlanta, he is staying in the Olympic Village here. "I wanted to get the whole Olympic experience this time," he said. That, of course, would include a gold medal.

Sports Illustrated senior writer Tim Layden is in Sydney covering the Games for the magazine and Check back daily to read Layden's behind-the-scenes reports from Down Under.

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