Install

Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Johnson Breaks Track's Oldest World Record

ATLANTA -- After his close call in the 200-meter semifinals Saturday, when his world-record time did not count as a world record because of a stiff tailwind, Michael Johnson remained resolved. As Scarlett O'Hara, someone else who passed through here, said when it appeared to everyone else that her hopes were gone with the wind, "Tomorrow's another day."


A grand Sunday it was for Johnson, who ran the 200 final in the U.S. Olympic track and field trials in 19.66 seconds to leave the sport's oldest individual record far behind. It had been owned by Italy's Pietro Mennea, who ran his 19.72 in the high altitude of Mexico City in 1979.


Johnson, whose fastest legal time previously was 19.79, said the record would be his when the conditions were right. They could hardly have been better than Sunday.


As evidenced by the times since the trials began nine days before, there might not be a faster track in the world than the one here that was imported from Italy.


The heat, measured at a high of 45 degrees Celsius on the track and at 43 degrees for the 200, was too intense for normal humans but about perfect for sprinters. Even while running his eighth race in nine scorching days after also winning the 400 last week in the third-fastest time ever, Johnson appeared fresh.


And the competition was impressive. On one side of Johnson, in Lane 5, was the defending Olympic champion and American-record holder (19.73) Michael Marsh. On the other was Jeff Williams, the bronze medalist in last summer's World Championships. In Lane 1 was Carl Lewis, who won the gold medal in the 200 in 1984 and the silver in '88.


But really, no one else was in this race with Johnson. At the finish, the closest of his rivals, Williams, was almost four meters behind in 20.03. Marsh was third in 20.04 to claim the final berth on the U.S. team. Lewis was fifth in 20.20.


Johnson, 28, of Dallas, already had most of what the sport has to offer -- two world championships in both the 200 and 400 and a gold medal in the 1,600-meter relay in Barcelona, Spain -- except a world record. He thought he had one Saturday, when he ran 19.70. But the wind blew at his back at 2.7 meters per second, over the legal allowable of 2.0.


When he crossed the finish line Sunday, he quickly glanced at the clock and saw it fixed at 19.66. He did not look at the wind gauge. Everyone else among the crowd of 30,141 inside Centennial Olympic Stadium presumably did. It read +1.7. Johnson was sure that he had the world record when he heard the cheers reach a crescendo.


"I knew that if the wind had been over the allowable, I would have heard some moans and groans," he said.


Not that there weren't some of those Sunday, the final day of the trials to select the team for the July 19-Aug. 4 Summer Olympics.


The most sympathetic were reserved for Gwen Torrence, a hometown hero who had been favored to return to this track a month from now and win at least three gold medals. The surest seemed to be in defense of her 200-meter title.


But in winning the 100 nine days ago, she strained a muscle in her upper left thigh. Although she reached Sunday's final in the 200, she had the misfortune of finding herself in an extremely quick race. In it were run the four fastest times in the world this year. Hers was the fourth fastest, not fast enough for the U.S. team in that event.


Carlette Guidry won in 22.14, Dannette Young was second in 22.18. It took several minutes to determine who was third. When the times were rounded off, both Torrence and Inger Miller were given official times of 22.25. But the photo of the finish revealed that Miller had finished one-thousandth of a second ahead, in 22.247 to Torrence's 22.248.


"I can't run on one leg when everybody else is ready to run," Torrence said. "I still think I'm the best in the world."


As a result of her bad luck, she wins the Dan O'Brien Award for the track and field trials of this Olympiad. That provides additional ammunition to those who want to see athletes who are obviously the best in their events, such as O'Brien in the decathlon in '92 and Torrence in the 200 this year, automatically waived onto the U.S. team.


(For other results, see Scorecard.)