DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) _ Michael Johnson needed only one race to prove why he's ranked No. 1.

In his 1996 outdoor debut, Johnson put up the fastest time in the world this year and set a meet record in winning the 400 meters Saturday at the Drake Relays.

Johnson coasted to victory over a talented field despite tightening slightly in the final 50 meters, finishing in 44.41 seconds. It was Johnson's 52nd straight victory in a 400 final, and while it was his slowest opening race since 1991, he was satisfied.

``I was anxious to get back out and start running,'' said Johnson, who's ranked No. 1 in the world in the 200 and 400. ``I had a really short indoor season. It seemed I was just training a lot and not really competing, so I was really looking forward to this race. I'm very pleased with it.''

The race marked the start of Johnson's bid to become the first man to win both the 200 and 400 in the same Olympics.

In beating Kevin Little, who had the world's second-best time coming in, and Baylor's Marlon Ramsey, who owns the nation's best collegiate time this spring, Johnson broke the meet record of 44.60 set by world-record holder Butch Reynolds in 1987.

Little, who had run 44.71 a week ago, was second in 45.17. Ramsey finished third in 45.24.

``I'm happy with it. It was a good race,'' Johnson said. ``I felt strong the whole way.''

And though he obviously pulled up at the end, it didn't seem to bother him.

``I tied up a little bit in the last 50, but I was working pretty hard on the curve,'' Johnson said. ``And that's something my coach and I had talked about doing, ... running a real good 350 and then just holding on in the last 50. And that's what I did. The only mistake I made was not really running the first 60 aggressively.''

Johnson said his first 60 meters were ``terrible.''

``I didn't really get into it,'' he said. ``It was kind of a lazy kind of running when I came out of the blocks.''

Once Johnson got going, though, it was no contest, and he was clearly in control coming out of the final curve.

Johnson ran only two indoor races this year, both 200s. He'll run his first outdoor 200 in Rio de Janeiro next weekend.

``I'm a lot stronger in my training than I have been in the last few years,'' Johnson said. ``I haven't done any speed work yet. We'll start that this week. We've been doing endurance stuff, but it's faster than what I've done before, so I'm getting some speed work in that.''