ATLANTA -- They made an interesting pair, standing down on the field at Olympic Stadium Monday night. Michael Johnson, on the medals platform after his 400-meter victory, receiving the gold medal from Alberto Juantorena. A man looking for his place in track and field history and a man whose place in Olympic lore is secured. The tie that binds these two is double-knotted with gold.
"It would be incredible if he could do it," Juantorena, now an official for the Cuban sports ministry, said yesterday when the subject of Johnson's attempt to also win the 200 meters was brought up. "It's inspiring."
But what Johnson will try to do when the competition resumes today has been done before. It was done by Juantorena at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal, where he won the 400 and 800 meters. It was done by Valerie Brisco-Hooks at the 1984 Games in Los Angeles, where she won the 200 and 400 meters. And it still could be done here by four besides Johnson, including Gail Devers and Haile Gebrselassie.
Johnson's bid to win his second gold medal gets under way this morning with the preliminary heats in the 200 meters. Gebrselassie will have a few more hours to rest before he tries to become the first long distance runner to win two gold medals since fellow Ethiopian Miruts Yifter won the 5,000 and 10,000 at the 1980 Olympics in Moscow. And Devers could be the first to double this year when the 100-meter hurdles semifinals and finals are held tonight.
Of all those who have doubled, and are trying to double, some believe Devers has the toughest job. Though the events are the same length, they are of a completely different discipline.
"One is very balletic, and one is more mechanical, meaning the hurdles," said Devers. "The 100 event is first, and you have all that speed. When I get to the hurdles, I have to remember that it is also rhythm. I have to make sure I have my rhythm and mechanics together, so I can make sure that what happened in '92 doesn't happen here."
What happened to Devers in the 100-meter hurdles prevented her from completing a double in Barcelona, Spain. Comfortably ahead through the next-to-last hurdle, Devers looked to the side as she began clearing the 10th and final hurdle. She hit the hurdle with her lead foot, lost her balance and staggered across the finish line in fifth place. Her chance at a piece of history had passed.
Now comes her next and, at the age of 29, possibly her last legitimate chance. After becoming the only woman to win back-to-back gold medals in the 100 meters at the Olympics aside from Wyomia Tyus, Devers will try to double her pleasure. It will be difficult, given the memories of 1992 and the fact that Ludmila Engquist of Sweden is the favorite, having nearly equaled Devers' career-best time in Monday's quarterfinals.
"To double is tough no matter what event you're in," Bobby Kersee, Devers' longtime coach, said yesterday. "But some are tougher than others."
Kersee knows from where he speaks. His wife, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, won double gold in the heptathlon and long jump four years ago. Her bid to do it again here ended when she pulled out of the heptathlon with an injury.
But Kersee also was coaching Brisco when she won two individual golds as well as one for being part of the 4 x 400 relay team. Kersee says that Brisco (whose name changed along with her marital status) didn't get the credit she deserved because of the absence of the top three ranked women in both the 400 and 800 meters, all from Eastern European countries adhering to the Soviet-led boycott in Los Angeles.
"She came back to beat [Marita] Koch and [Marlies] Gohr within an hour of each other at a meet in Zurich the next year," Kersee recalled yesterday. "And her 200 final had Florence Griffith Joyner [who won the 100 and 200 in 1988] and Merlene Ottey. She beat some pretty good people, but everybody said she won because of the people who weren't there."
Brisco recently told the Los Angeles Times that the toughest part was her schedule. "You'd be out there in the morning and still out there at 7 at night," she said. "Running the 200 at the Olympics was the most difficult of all. I was fatigued, emotionally drained, my back was having spasms."
Meanwhile, Johnson seems to be barely working up a sweat. His lack of competition in the 400 might have cost him a chance at a world record. But he certainly was able to conserve his energy going into a possible rematch with Frankie Fredericks of Namibia, who beat Johnson last month in Switzerland, ending his 21-race winning streak in the 200.
"I could get a lot quicker and a lot more aggressive," Johnson said after running 43.49 seconds in the 400 final. "Now I'll be able to do what comes more naturally, and that's sprint. I've got 48 hours to get ready for the 200, and if you give me two, I'll be ready."
Gebrselassie merely sounded tired after winning the 10,000.
"I'm excited from the gold medal as much as anybody else," said the 23-year-old Ethiopian who holds the world record in both his races. "My feet are aching; this track was not made for long-distance runners. . . . Though the track is bad, I came here to run 5,000 meters and 10,000 meters, and I must run both."
It has been 20 years since Juantorena completed his double, which might be the greatest in Olympic history because one race is a sprint and the other is more tactical.
"When I won [the 800] I even surprised myself," he said.
Juantorena has been impressed by what he has seen of Johnson, how he has handled the pressure and the spotlight that has focused on him for much of the past three years. He is still amazed at how fast Johnson runs despite his unconventional, flat-footed style -- "It looks funny," said Juantorena -- and will be surprised if he doesn't complete his double.
"He has the ability and the capacity and the physique," Juantorena said.
He also has most of the attention. Nobody here is talking about Devers or Gebrselassie. Nobody is talking about Svetlana Masterkova of Sweden, who will try to win the 1,500 after pulling off a stunning upset of Maria Mutola and Ana Quirot in the 800. Nobody is talking about Marie-Jose Perec of France, who'll try to double in the 200 and 400.
Everybody is talking about Johnson. And Johnson is talking about it, too.
"It's best not to talk about something unless you've really done it," said Brisco.
A look at some of the multiple gold-medal winners in track and field competition at the same Olympics:
Year .. .Athlete .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ..Events
1912 .. .Ralph Craig, U.S. .. .. .. .. ..100, 200
.. .. ...Jim Thorpe, U.S. .. .. .. .... .pentathlon, decathlon
1920 .. .Albert Hill, Great Britain .. ..800, 1,500
1924 .. .Paavo Nurmi, Finland .. .. .. ..1,500, 5,000
.. .. ...Bud Houser, U.S. .. .. .. .. ...discus, shot put
1936 .. .Jesse Owens, U.S. .. .. .. .. ..100, 200, long jump
.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ..4 x 100 relay
1952 .. .Emil Zatopek, Czechoslovakia ...5,000, 10,000, marathon
1960 .. .Wilma Rudolph, U.S., .. .. .. ..100, 200, 4 x 100 relay
1976 .. .Alberto Juantorena, Cuba .. .. .400, 800
1984 ....Valerie Brisco-Hooks, U.S. .. ..200, 400, 4 x 400 relay
.. .. ...Carl Lewis .. .. .. .. .. .. ...100, 200, long jump,
.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ..4 x 100 relay
1988 .. .Florence Griffith Joyner, U.S. .100, 200
1992 .. .Jackie Joyner-Kersee, U.S. .. ..Heptathlon, long jump
Pub Date: 7/31/96