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Double Pursuits Begin For Johnson, Godina, Devers

July 25, 1996

ATLANTA (AP) _ Michael Johnson isn’t the only American beginning a rare Olympic double on Friday. John Godina, performing an unusual marriage of shot put to discus, tries to become the first man to win both in the Olympics since L. Clarence ``Bud″ Houser in 1924.

``I don’t know why so few people have done it,″ said Godina, the first U.S. male athlete to even qualify in both events since Houser.

Grinning, he added: ``It must be a little harder than I think.″

Godina competes in the shot put Friday, while Johnson launches his bid to make Olympic history in the 400 meters as track and field competition begins. The 400 finals are Monday, while the 200 meters, pushed back to accommodate Johnson, start July 31.

Godina once made joking reference to not requesting a schedule change, a la Johnson, but the schedule actually is a good fit for his bid.

The shot put Friday is his better event, and throwing the 16-pound ball requires a let-it-all-hang-out approach that will make it easier to overcome any first-time Olympic jitters.

``The shot put is pure power, you just turn it loose,″ he said. ``You have to be a lot more hyper for the shot put.″

As for the Frisbee-like, 4-pound, 6.55-ounce discus, which begins July 31, ``You have to be a lot more composed and relaxed.″

Godina, who has run the 40-yard dash in 4.7 seconds, has all-around athletic ability to back his strength. His UCLA coach, John Venegas, says he’s also very aggressive, a quality probably honed in football, which he played most his life.

Born at Fort Sill, Okla., Godina, 24, played both sides of the line for a Wyoming state champion football team at Cheyenne Central. Projected as a college linebacker, he drew big-school interest, but decided to concentrate on track and field.

``I got tired of football,″ he explained. ``It’s a pain, with 11 guys on a team and somebody goofs up, there’s nothing you can do about it. That’s the way it goes in team sports.

``This is completely individual,″ he said.

Indeed, a teammate probably will be his toughest foe in the shot. Seoul silver medalist, 310-pound Randy Barnes, is back after missing the 1992 Olympics because of suspension for testing positive for anabolic steroids.

Godina finished second in the U.S. trials in both events, and figures to be hard-pressed to medal in the discus.

``I’m kind of a dark horse there,″ he said. ``If it turns out the discus goes very badly, then it was just a bonus to try.″

For inspiration, he said, he’ll think of Al Oerter, the four-time discus gold medalist.

``He was never favored, but he always won,″ Godina said. ``He’s the stud of all studs. He’s the man.″

In the 400 heats that begin Friday, world-record holder Butch Reynolds, 1988 Seoul silver medalist, also tries for redemption after a drug suspension. Johnson, trying to become the first male ever to win golds in both the 400 and 200, is eyeing Reynolds’ record 43.29.

Barcelona gold medalist Gail Devers also begins a double-gold chase in the 100 meters, where U.S. rival Gwen Torrence presents an obstacle. Devers is also in the 100-meter hurdles, which she led in 1992 until a late stumble, that begin Monday.

Ethiopia’s Haile Gebrselassie tries the most grueling double effort in Hotlanta, running the 10,000 meters, which begins Friday, and the 5,000 the next week.

Also, Mary Slaney, possibly the greatest American women’s distance runner ever and perhaps the unluckiest in the Olympics, runs in the qualifying round in the 5,000. At age 37, she’s in her fourth Olympics.

While the spotlight shifts to the Olympic Stadium, drama remains at the Georgia Tech pool, where Ireland’s red-haired golden girl, Michelle Smith, seeks her fourth gold medal in the 200 butterfly. That’s one of five golds at stake on the last day of the pool races.

In basketball, Dream Team III faces China, 2-1 in preliminary play after defeating Argentina.

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