Torrence's gutsy performance reaffirmed her status as the preeminent woman sprinter in the U.S., a distinction earned with two gold medals in Barcelona in 1992. Now she will rest before chasing the 100-meter title in Sweden. She is perhaps better able to handle a 200-400 double, but what she covets is the 100, so she'll do the 100-200 double. "Everyone wants to be the world's fastest woman," she said. "People tell me I'm better suited to the 400, but there's something about that 100 title."
There's no need to remind Lewis. He qualified for the 100 final in an encouraging 10.12 seconds but finished sixth, in 10.32. "I ran slow" was his angry—and honest—response. On Sunday, with fierce following winds and much pressure, Lewis resurrected himself in the long jump, going 27'8�" on his third leap. He rose from the pit, arms in the air, a pose as familiar as Joe Montana's touchdown signal.
Again and again it happened, this rush of late-career heroism. "The older guys get their motivation from us," said Allen Johnson. But motivation has always been a temporary antidote for the ravages of time. Powell, for all his injuries, lost only three times last year, twice to Streete-Thompson. And how does Torrence win two races on a leg and a half? It has to do as much with the endurance of the champions as with the fact that their would-be successors have yet to develop.
But one athlete here stood apart from all that. Michael Johnson is neither aged nor wishful; he is 27 years old and at the peak of his athletic skills. He has become the most dominant 200-and 400-meter runner in history, his status achieved by increments. He won the world championship 200 in 1991 and the 400 in '93, around a disappointing '92 Olympics in which he suffered from food poisoning and failed to make the final of the 200 but ran on the U.S.'s gold medal 4x400-meter relay team. He is scarcely anonymous; in Europe he is a bright star who makes a comfortable living. But in combining the 200 and 400 this summer, Johnson seeks a level of greatness attained in this country only by Lewis.
In Sacramento, Johnson took large strides toward that goal. "Very hard to beat right now," said 100-meter winner Mike Marsh, who was sixth behind Johnson's wind-aided 19.83 in the 200.
In last Friday's 400 final Johnson walked—by his standards—the first 200 meters, sitting cool as Darnell Hall ripped past him through a 21.2-second split ( Johnson was caught in a controlled 21.5). But Johnson accelerated through the curve in his familiar low scoot, head high, back slightly arched, arms driving. He reached 300 meters in 31.8 seconds, meaning that he ran 100 meters on a curve in a ridiculous 10.3 seconds. He was nearly 10 meters ahead of a closing Butch Reynolds at the finish, where he danced sideways across the line and still ran the fastest 400 ever on U.S. soil, 43.66 seconds.
"When I think I can get the record, you'll see me with a big ugly face on, my head way back, chest out," Johnson said. It seems inevitable that he will break Reynolds's 1988 mark of 43.29, perhaps approaching 43-flat, although Reynolds warns against presumption. "From 43.66 to 43.29, that's a different kind of pain," he says. "I felt that pain. You don't want to get to that place too often."
For Johnson, success has brought a greater sense of ease. He is by nature a stoic, the type of athlete whose smile is engaging because it is so rarely seen. In Sacramento he slowly began allowing his personality to slip out: There was the dance across the finish line, and a few moments later, in a press conference, he said he was headed for a "sub-42-second 400 meters." It was a misstatement that Johnson turned into a small slice of comedy. "I'm trying to tackle a sub-43 now," Johnson said. "But now you know where I'm headed." And then came the smile.
He is without humor on the subject of attempting a 200-400 double at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. In Sacramento there was and in G�teborg there will be no overlap of the two events, but the Atlanta schedule now calls for 200-meter semifinals on the same day as the 400 final. The International Amateur Athletic Federation recently widened the gap between the races, allowing Johnson—for he is the only one likely to attempt this punishing test—two hours and 35 minutes instead of one hour and 40 minutes. But even the new span, Johnson feels, is inadequate. "I appreciate what they've done," he says, "but it's not enough. Whichever race I don't run will be a joke, and I won't be the only one who will be disappointed."
If IAAF officials are unaware of what Johnson's presence means, they need only have seen him attempt to leave the concrete horseshoe of Hughes Stadium last Saturday. After the interviews and the congratulations, there was half an hour spent providing specimens for drug testing. Dozens of fans waited in the sun for his return, then proffered all manner of clothing and paper for his signature. Johnson paused and signed until, after perhaps 10 minutes, he finally turned and jogged toward his car.