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Johnson’s first 200 is world’s best

April 26, 1997

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) _ Same old Michael Johnson.

Nearly nine months after setting the world record in the 200 meters at the Atlanta Olympics, Johnson ran his first 200 of 1997 in the Drake Relays on Saturday.

All he did was break the meet record and run the fastest time in the world this year, cracking off a 20.05-second clocking to beat Olympic finalist Obadele Thompson and five other runners.

Ato Boldon’s 20.09 was the previous best this year.

``It felt good,″ Johnson said. ``I didn’t come in expecting any particular time, so I’m pleased with my time. The race felt real good. It felt pretty smooth throughout.″

Johnson was the featured performer in the Drake Relays and had to duck into a stadium tunnel to escape the mob of photographers and fans who swarmed him after the race. But he didn’t escape until he had slapped hands with dozens of fans leaning out of their front-row seats along the track.

The victory didn’t come without some effort. Thompson, fourth in the Olympic finals last summer, was running with Johnson on the curve. But Johnson, wearing shiny purple shoes, surged out in front after completing the turn and held off the Texas-El Paso sprinter in the straightaway.

``He’s a great athlete,″ said Johnson, who set a world mark of 19.32 in the Olympic finals and also won the 400 at Atlanta. ``He got injured last year and came back and got fourth at the Olympics. You can’t take someone like that lightly.″

It was the first of three 200s Johnson will run in preparation for his 150-meter match race with Olympic 100 champion Donovan Bailey in Toronto on June 1. He’ll run one in Brazil next Saturday and another in the Prefontaine Classic at Eugene, Ore., on May 25.

Johnson began his season last weekend by running a 43.75-second 400 at Waco, Texas, fastest time ever before the month of June. That, plus Saturday’s race, tells Johnson that he’s in excellent shape.

Last year, he ran his first 200 in 20.20 and his first 400 in 44.41.

``It’s just a matter of I’m a year older, I’ve had a year’s more experience now, I’ve been able to train more this year than I did last year,″ Johnson said.

``At this point, I’m in better shape. Hopefully, I’ll be able to sustain that through the season.″

The previous Drake Relays record in the 200 was 20.28 by UTEP’s Andrew Tynes in 1995. Thompson finished in 20.36 Saturday and Elston Crawley of Texas-Arlington was third in 20.56.

Two other featured athletes, hometown favorites Kevin Little and Natasha Kaiser-Brown, lost their races. But Iowa State, Arizona and Baylor continued winning streaks and two-time Olympian Suzy Hamilton cruised to a victory in the 800.

Little, the world indoor 200 champion this year, finished third in the invitational 400. Leonard Byrd of Texas-San Antonio edged former DePaul runner Dave Dopek for first in that race, running 45.63 to 45.67 for Dopek,

They finished several strides ahead of Little, who’s from nearby Ankeny and ran at Drake University. His time was 46.07.

``I just wasn’t fluid today,″ Little said. ``It’s disappointing as an opener. But I realize I have a lot to work on and I don’t want to be ready until June.″

Lorraine Graham of Lincoln, a two-time NCAA Division II national champion, held off fast-closing Kaiser-Brown to win the women’s 400 in 51.04. That was .06 seconds ahead of Kaiser-Brown, a Des Moines native who ran collegiately at Missouri and won a silver medal in the 1,600 relay in the 1992 Olympics.

Kaiser-Brown’s husband, Brian Brown, cleared 7 feet, 7 inches in the high jump to break the Drake Relays record of 7-6 1/2 set by Hollis Conway in 1993.

Hamilton, a former Wisconsin standout who still holds collegiate records in the 800 and 1,500, sprinted to a big lead early in the 800 but had to slow at the end and finished in 2:03.65. She fell just short of the meet record of 2:03.18.

Iowa State got victories from Jason Woods in the 110 hurdlers and Josh Hagedorn in the shot put to continue its string of winning at least one event in the Drake Relays since 1981. The Cyclones have 50 victories in that span, nearly twice the total of any other school in that span.

Woods easily outran his competition to win the hurdles in 13.77. While he wasn’t happy with his start and was slow getting to the first two hurdles, Woods was going full bore by the halfway mark and kept building his lead over the final 50 meters.

Northern Iowa’s Joey Woody, who set a meet record in the 400 hurdles on Friday, was second in 14.01.

``The main part of my race is the last five hurdles,″ said Woods, a two-time Iowa high school champion. ``Midway through, I really decided to kick it up. My form was real good and I was able to kick it harder without making any mistakes.″

Hagedorn won the shot put with a throw of 63 feet, 7 1/4 inches, best by a collegian this season.

Arizona won the university distance medley relay for the third straight year as Bob Keino came through with another strong anchor after giving the Wildcats a come-from-victory in the 6,400 relay on Friday.

No. 3 runner Luther Kopf gave the Wildcats a two-step lead over Illinois by running his 1,200-meter leg in 1:49.2 and Keino took it from there, sprinting away from Cortney Lamb of Illinois immediately and beating him by 60 meters.

Keino ran the final 1,600 in 4:01.2 as Arizona, which opened with Micheil Jones and Dameon Ortiz, finished in 9:34.05. Illinois ran 9:41.24.

``As soon as I came around the curve and passed the guy from Illinois, I knew there wasn’t anyone who was going to pass Bob,″ said Kopf, who also joined Keino on the winning distance medley teams in 1995 and 1996.

``Today felt good for all of us. Bob kind of bailed us out yesterday. Today, we all did more of our part.″

Johnson’s alma mater, Baylor, continued its domination of the university 1,600 relay. The team of Damien Smith, Brandon Terry, Stephan Bragner and Darrin Strong ran 3:04.67 to win that race for the sixth straight year and the 10th time since 1985.

Baylor also got victories from Brian Kiem in the 5,000 (14:00.27) and Strong in the 800 (1:48.16).

On the women’s side, Baylor won the 400 relay in 44.70 and the 1,600 relay in 3:36.17, the Bears’ fourth straight victory in that event.

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