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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

'Fastest Man in Life' Sprints to Record Double

ATLANTA -- What does it feel like to run that fast? "My dad bought me this go-cart when I was a kid," Michael Johnson said, "and I used to take it to the end of the street and down a hill. So ... get a go-cart, find a hill, and you'll know how it feels."


Maybe. If it's a really steep hill.


"That's my next training regimen," said Ato Boldon, who had run a rollicking 19.80 seconds and still ended up with only a bronze medal in the Olympic 200-meter final. Ahead of him was Frankie Fredericks, in 19.68 (which would have been a world record until Johnson started wreaking havoc on this new Olympic track a month ago at the U.S. Trials). And ahead of Fredericks -- way ahead -- was Johnson's 19.32.


Fredericks shook his head. "I thought when Michael ran 19.66 [to break the 17-year-old world record at the Trials], that was incredible enough," Fredericks said. "But 19.32 ... I don't know."


American hurdler Calvin Davis called Johnson "a man among children." Opponents throughout the Games have called him unbeatable, awesome, so on and so on. Boldon, a man not without self-confidence, said before Thursday night's final that "the only way Michael can lose is if his shoe falls off."


Johnson's only reply: "I'll tie my shoes tight then."


He ran so fast Thursday night that Johnson almost managed to change the subject from what it had been: that he was making history by being the first man to win both the 200- and 400-meter in the same Olympics.


Before Johnson went to the line, the talk was about how a 200/400 gold-medal double compares with other Olympic doubles in various events. Tougher than the 100/200 combo repeated several times by the likes of Jesse Owens, Carl Lewis, Valery Borzov? Tougher than Alberto Juantorena's 400/800 twin bill in 1976? Tougher than the 5,000/10,000/marathon triple by Czech Emil Zatopek in 1952?


Only four men in Olympic history have even made it to the finals in both the 200 and 400 -- one being "Chariots of Fire" protagonist Eric Liddell in 1924.


Johnson had to make it through four rounds in each event, and he repeatedly assured that "it's not easy." He said his competitors were too good to take lightly. But, in each race, with the exception of the two finals, he was so far ahead of the field that he was able to stroll the last 30 to 50 meters, looking back and forth over both shoulders and tiptoeing along like a 6-year-old crossing the street. With the staggered start in the 200, Johnson's astounding starts could not be visually appreciated until the end of the first turn, when the crowd would roar with astonishment to see that he already was several strides ahead. Thursday night, even Johnson was startled. "I could tell on the turn," he said, "that I was running faster than I ever have before in my life."


The 19.32 took 0.34 of a second off the already startling world record he set here last month at 19.66. His winning margin of 0.36 was the largest in a men's Olympic 200 final since Jesse Owens beat Mack Robinson in 1936, 20.7 to 21.1. Cut that 19.32 in half and it produces back-to-back 100 times of 9.66. (Last week, Canada's Donovan Bailey set the world 100 record at 9.84, but remember that Johnson doesn't have to leave the starting blocks twice in the 200.)


"I said the person who wins the 100 here is the fastest man in life," said Boldon, who also finished third in the Olympic 100-meter sprint. "Now I think the fastest man in life is right here," nodding to Johnson. As soon as they crossed the finish line and the time flashed, Fredericks hugged Johnson and Boldon bowed deeply to him.


The whole long campaign toward Thursday night, with Johnson having done the 200/400 double at last year's world championships and then requesting that the Olympic schedule be changed to accommodate the double here, was "pressure," Johnson said.


"People called me about the double all the time, and that was pressure. People called me to take pressure off and just added more pressure. I was afraid I wouldn't make history. But I like to be afraid. I was nervous tonight and I ran like I was nervous. I run fast when I'm nervous."