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July 26, 1996

Johnson begins quest for gold in 200, 400

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ATLANTA (AP) - Finally, it begins for Michael Johnson.

The hype is over. The starting gun goes off tonight for Johnson's bid to make Olympic history.

Within a week, he intends to be the first man to have the Olympic gold medals in the 400 and 200 meters dangling from his neck.

``Over the past six years, I've established myself as the premier track and field athlete going into the Olympics - `the story' of the Olympics,'' Johnson said.

The remark reflects characteristic confidence. On and around the track, Johnson is quiet and deadly serious. He always expects to win.

The start of Johnson's quest should be uneventful. He will run in the fifth of eight heats against outmatched opponents. The second- and third-fastest runners in the heat, Kennedy Ochieng of Kenya and Alejandro Cardenas of Mexico, have qualifying times more than 1.5 seconds slower than Johnson's best this year of 43.44 seconds.

Tonight's race won't count in Johnson's streak of 54 consecutive 400-meter victories because it isn't a final.

The other Americans in the event, world record holder Butch Reynolds and Alvin Harrison, shouldn't have any trouble in their heats, either. Johnson, Reynolds and Harrison have the three fastest times in the world this year.

The second round of qualifying is scheduled for Saturday, with the semifinals on Sunday and the finals on Monday. All of the 400 qualifying rounds have been moved to the evening so NBC can televise Johnson's runs live.

After track takes a day off Tuesday, qualifying in the 200 starts on Wednesday. The finals are Thursday.

Johnson would not be the first athlete to win golds in the 200 and 400. Valerie Brisco-Hooks did it at the 1984 Olympics, but some of her top competitors stayed home in the Soviet-led boycott of the Los Angeles Games.

In Atlanta, for the first time in Olympic history, all nations are represented. Unlike 1984, however, the schedule was altered to make it easier for Johnson to compete in both events.

American John Godina will have no easy start in his attempt become the first man since 1924 to win the Olympic shot put and discus.

Tonight, it's the shot put finals. Godina is the defending world champion in the event, but he was only second in the U.S. trials and faces stiff competition from U.S. teammate Randy Barnes and Finland's Mike Halvari. Godina, however, said there could be a 1-2-3 U.S. sweep, with C.J. Hunter winning the third American medal.

``Anything could happen, but it just so happens that this year, the top throwers are in the U.S.,'' Godina said. ``It's much easier throwing here in the U.S. I'm much more comfortable here than when I travel. I'm familiar with the stadium and I know the rings. I know it's going to be a great crowd. It's going to be a lot of fun.''

After tonight, Godina will have two days off before the discus qualifying on Monday. Godina is considered a longshot in the discus, but he notes that four-time gold medalist Al Oerter was never favored either.

``But he always won,'' Godina said. ``He's the stud of all studs. He's the man.''

Other events tonight are the second round of the men's and women's 100 preliminaries and qualifying in the women's javelin, men's triple jump, women's 5,000 and men's 10,000.

Day 2 of track and field on Saturday features the crowning of the ``world's fastest humans'' in the finals of the men's and women's 100.

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