Perec Pulls Off Her Own Double
ATLANTA (AP) _ The only person to beat Michael Johnson at these Olympics is Marie-Jose Perec.
Fifteen minutes before Michael Johnson pulled off his historic double Thursday night, winning the 400 and 200 meters at the same Olympics, the Frenchwoman nicknamed ``The Gazelle″ already had accomplished the feat.
With a great finishing kick, the long-legged Perec won the women’s 200 with a time of 22.12 seconds, beating out Jamaica’s perennial also-ran, Merlene Ottey, who picked up her second silver of the games.
``I bet on my finish because I know I’m very strong at the end,″ Perec said. ``At the beginning I was far behind but I was not afraid. The race was really won in the last 10 meters. It’s the last 10 meters that make the difference, not before.″
Perec was only the second woman to win the 200 and 400 at the same Olympics, but her accomplishment was more impressive since the world’s top runners were all in Atlanta. When Valerie Brisco-Hooks accomplished the double at Los Angeles in 1984, two of her chief rivals did not participate because of the Soviet-led boycott.
Perec scoffed at the notion that her accomplishment was diminished by Johnson, who set a world record of 19.32 in the 200 shortly after the women’s event to become the first man to win both the 200 and 400.
``No, not at all,″ Perec said. ``I don’t think I was overshadowed by Michael Johnson.″
She looked around at the packed press conference room, although many reporters were waiting for the Johnson to come in.
``As you can see, there are a lot of people in here,″ Perec said. ``That means they’ve got respect for what I accomplished.″
Ottey led by a couple of feet coming off the turn while Perec bunched together with four other runners. But Perec, her beautiful strides never wavering while the others began to struggle, overtook Ottey in the final 15 meters and won by at least five feet.
Ottey was second in 22.24 seconds, while Mary Onyali of Nigeria took the bronze in 22.38.
``Everyone was thinking it was finished for me,″ Perec said, ``except for myself.″
On Monday night, Perec won her second straight Olympic gold in the 400, setting an Olympic record of 48.25 _ the world’s fastest time in 10 years.
Perec has been as dominating on the women’s side as Johnson has been among the men _ especially in the 400. She took gold at the 1991 and 1995 world championships in addition to the 1992 Olympic title.
In 1993, Perec skipped the 400 at a major meet in order to run the 200. She finished fourth and decided to start focusing on both events.
Now, she’s already pondering the possibility of adding another event to her repertoire before the 2000 Sydney Games.
``Maybe one day I will race at 800 meters,″ she said. ``Maybe in four years, when I’m older, people will see me at that distance, because I’m sure I have not used all of my potential.″
A native of Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, the 5-foot-11 Perec has done some modeling work in Paris and hopes to work in the fashion world when her running days are over.
As for Ottey, 36, she will have to be content with a career that includes five Olympics, four bronze medals, two silvers _ but no gold.
``I wanted to win the gold,″ she said, ``but I knew it would be difficult with Marie-Jo. I knew I had to go out hard and I was hoping to hold on, but it didn’t work out that way.″