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.?' "
Building the Field
Prize Money vs. Appearance Fees
The Toronto 150 was conceived as a creative means to pump life into the sport. The Goodwill Games, for their part, have attempted to use prize money (not principally appearance fees) to stage a world-class meet. A small group of athletes—including Johnson, O'Brien, Jackie Joyner-Kersee and Marion Jones—were paid promotional fees to work for the meet and compete in it. Almost everybody else is running for prize money: from $40,000 for first place in five marquee events (not accidentally, Johnson's, O'Brien's, Joyner-Kersee's and Jones's, plus the men's 100) to $6,000 in low-profile events.
Incomes of track and field athletes are generally a mysterious mix of shoe-contract money and appearance fees, which for top performers can total far more than $1 million a year. Yet in a marketplace in which celebrity is often measured by salary, these invisible riches have no promotional value. Many people know that Johnson is fast; few appreciate how wealthy his speed has made him. "Visible prize money is the only way to save the sport," says agent Brad Hunt, who represents Johnson, among others. "But every time the European agents get together, their top priority is to avoid meets with prize money"
Largely because of the Goodwill Games' reliance on prize money, the meet lacked three of the sport's hottest names. Sprinter Frankie Fredericks of Namibia didn't come because, he said, "they made me an insulting offer?' Said David Raith, the Goodwill Games sports vice president who put the field together: "His offer was at least as good as the one we made Greene and Boldon." Translation: Fredericks wanted a big, Johnson-scale appearance fee. Also missing were miler Hicham El Guerrouj of Morocco, who negotiated with Raith until three days before the games, then elected to stay in Europe (and avoid the windy Mitchel Athletic Complex track in Uniondale, N.Y.), and distance runner Haile Gebrselassie of Ethiopia, who never considered veering from his European schedule.
But runners Noureddine Morceli of Algeria, Daniel Komen of Kenya and Merlene Ottey of Jamaica (among others) came to New York for nominal or no appearance money, airfare, lodging, meals and a chance to win cash. Considering that only 10,000 spectators rattled around the 80,000-seat Rome Olympic Stadium to watch El Guerrouj set the 1,500-meter world record on July 14 in an old-fashioned, prize-money-free meet, the Goodwill Games' experiment seems to have been worth conducting.
Clearing a Hurdle
Move Over, Moses
Though it has been overshadowed by the rapid ascension of Marion Jones and Maurice Greene in the sprints, Bryan Bronson's rise in the 400-meter hurdles has been equally sudden. A 25-year-old native of Jasper, Texas, who learned to hurdle at a high school that owned only three hurdles and had a 450-yard dirt track with an uphill straightaway, Bronson is just .01 of a second off Edwin Moses's career best of 47.02 seconds and is within striking distance of Kevin Young's world record of 46.78. In keeping with his unorthodox r�sum�, Bronson (who won the Goodwill 400 hurdles in 47.15 on Sunday) is coached by 40-year-old Houston marathoner Ken Wrinkle, who stresses—naturally—endurance.