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Dennis Mitchell is the world’s No. 1 sprinter _ and he’s

January 24, 1995

NEW YORK (AP) _ Dennis Mitchell is the world’s No. 1 sprinter _ and he’s also becoming an expert on earthquakes.

While the two don’t necessarily go together, in Mitchell’s case they do.

A year ago, he was in California during the terrible quake that rocked the Northridge area, near Los Angeles, where his coach, John Smith, lives. A week ago, he was in Japan during the devastating quake that rattled the Kobe area, resulting in more than 5,000 deaths.

The two quakes were hardly comparable, Mitchell said.

``That was a little kitty earthquake in Los Angeles,″ he said Monday via a teleconference call at the Metropolitan Track Writers luncheon. ``The one in Japan was 10 times worse. It lasted for about 40 seconds; it felt like about 40 minutes.″

At the time of last week’s quake, Mitchell was on a business trip in Osaka, only 22 miles east of Kobe. When it struck about 5:30 a.m., Mitchell was sleeping in his hotel room.

``After it stopped, the building was moving for about another 30 to 40 seconds,″ Mitchell said. ``People were in shock.″

Mitchell, who was on the 16th floor, quickly went to the room of his business manager, Charley Wells, a former sprinter, and said they had to leave the hotel immediately. He also tried to assist other frightened hotel guests in leaving.

As he, Wells and the others attempted to escape via an emergency exit, they found the door locked. ``We had to read the directions before we could open it and get to the steps,″ Mitchell said.

Once at the steps, Mitchell hoped to use his sprinting ability.

``I wnated to get out of there in 16 seconds _ one floor a second,″ he said. ``I was about the only one there who had experience on earthquakes. I was telling them what to do. We had to keep moving, but the pace was slow, because the people were in shock.

``It was the most horrifying experience I’ve ever had.″

Fortunately, no one in the hotel was hurt, Mitchell said, except for those in shock.

``When I left the hotel, people were crying and in shock over the terrible situation,″ he said. ``It was terrifying.

``A hurricane or a tornado, you can predict when they’re coming. There’s no device I know of that predicts when an earthquake is going to hit. The devastation I saw for 40 seconds was horrible ... the earth was moving.″

Mitchell left Japan to return to the United States about 12 hours after the quake.

``I felt I shouldn’t have left so quickly because there was so much devastation,″ he said. ``The country’s done so much for me, I should have stayed there in time of need.″

After these two horrifying experiences, it would appear to be unsafe to travel with Mitchell. He doesn’t agree.

``It’s good to travel with me,″ he said. ``I’ve survived.

``When something like this happens, I know what to do.″

Mitchell also knows what to do on the track.

He has won two World Championship bronze medals and one Olympic bronze medal in the 100-meter dash. He has run the third leg on the two U.S. teams that share the world record of 37.40 seconds for the 400-meter relay. He ran on two other teams that set the relay record previously. And he has twice won the national 100-meter championship, including last year, a victory that helped him gain the No. 1 ranking in a controversial choice over Britain’s Linford Christie, the European and Commonwealth Games champion.

``I couldn’t get into the European Championships or the Commonwealth Games,″ Mitchell said. ``In the middle of the season, I was on fire. I was running 9.9s on the track every meet, and Christie was nowhere to be found.″

When the two did meet, they split six races.

Mitchell will open his season Feb. 3 in the 60-meter dash at the Millrose Games at Madison Square Garden.

``This season, I don’t want there to be any controversy,″ he said.

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