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First Step in Johnson’s Historic Quest Complete

July 27, 1996

ATLANTA (AP) _ With 50 meters left, Michael Johnson glanced twice to his right. With 20 meters to go, he slowed to a trot. At the finish line he was second, letting a Sri Lankan pass him at the end.

The nonchalant Johnson seemed like a weekend jogger as he passed his first test in the men’s 400 meters Friday night _ the opening step in his quest for an unprecedented Olympic double triumph in the 200 and 400.

The man who has won 54 straight 400 finals, a streak that stretches back to Feb. 24, 1989, grinned after crossing the finish line in a mediocre 45.80 seconds.

``There’s no sense in doing anything but to get to the next round,″ Johnson said after the first-round race. ``Running fast in this round is not going to give me any special privileges in the next round. I’m trying to get to the final as easily as possible.″

There were a couple of spectacular runs in the men’s 100 on the opening day of track and field at the Atlanta Games. Gail Devers and Gwen Torrence advanced to the women’s 100 semifinals, but Torrence, who was hampered by a sore left quadriceps at last month’s U.S. trials, grimaced and grabbed her right thigh after each heat.

``Medically, I feel as good as I did at the trials, about the same as the trials,″ Torrence, 31, said after her race. ``It gets harder and harder as I get older and older.″

The Olympics ended quickly for Mary Slaney, perhaps America’s greatest female distance runner but never an Olympic medalist. She was seventh in her heat of the 5,000 and failed to advance to Sunday’s final.

The day’s fastest 100 time was 9.93 seconds by Frankie Fredericks of Namibia, who slowed in the final 12 meters and missed Carl Lewis’ Olympic record by a hundredth of a second. Ato Boldon of Trinidad ran a 9.95.

Americans Dennis Mitchell, Mike Marsh and Jon Drummond all joined Fredericks and Boldon in Saturday’s semifinals. So did reigning Olympic champ Linford Christie and world champion Donovan Bailey.

Boldon promised that Leroy Burrell’s world record of 9.85 seconds will be broken in the final on Saturday night.

``I guarantee, 100 percent, there’ll be a world record in the 100 meters tomorrow,″ said Boldon, who won an NCAA title for UCLA this spring.

Johnson, who is favored to become the first man to win the Olympic 200 and 400, got off to a decent start and led the field coming off the final turn. He had planned to take it easy in the preliminary rounds, and stayed true to that plan on the final straightaway.

Though he maintained his upright running style until the end, the piston-like efficiency of his arms and legs slowed nearly to a halt at the end of the race, when Sugath Thilakaratne of Sri Lanka edged him to win in 45.79.

``I knew I was in the top two or three and I wasn’t concerned about the others. I had enough to kick back into another gear if they came for me,″ Johnson said.

Johnson, who calls himself ``the story″ of the Olympics, wore gold shoes, a change from the purple ones he sported at the trials. ``I felt like gold was a good color,″ he deadpanned.

Also advancing easily to Saturday’s second round were Americans Butch Reynolds, who holds the world record of 43.29, and Alvin Harrison. The United States has a good chance of sweeping the medals in the 400; the semifinals are Monday and the final is Tuesday.

John Godina, also attempting to win two golds, got off to a good start with a shot put of 67 feet, 4 3/4 inches, the second-best throw in the qualifying round. Godina was trying to become the first winner in the shot put and discus, which begins Monday, since 1924.

Also moving to the shot finals later Friday night, in which the U.S. team was expected to win more than one medal, were American teammates Randy Barnes and C.J. Hunter.

There were no big surprises in the two preliminary rounds of the women’s 100. All three Americans advanced _ defending Olympic champion Devers, world champion Torrence and NCAA champion D’Andre Hill.

Devers was the only woman to go under 11 seconds, running 10.92 in the first round and 10.94 in the second round. Her long-time rival Torrence ran two 11.11s to win both of her heats, but grabbed her right thigh after each one.

Torrence, an Atlanta native, got a huge ovation from fans in the packed 85,000-seat Olympic Stadium on a muggy, oppressive day,

Jefferson Perez captured Ecuador’s first Olympic medal by winning the men’s 20-kilometer walk, the opening track and field event.

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