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Atlanta 1996 - Key Moments

Johnson at the double

If Carl Lewis, previously indisputable as king of track and field, was left to pick up only one medal in Atlanta, then a significant consolation was that his ninth Olympic gold assured him of a permanent place in the history of the Olympic Games.

But it was his compatriot Michael Johnson who would become the main attraction in Atlanta, with a double gold victory in the 200 (and world record of 19.32 seconds) and 400.

Johnson had been present in Barcelona four years earlier and was the favorite to win the 200, having won 29 straight finals until Namibian sprinter Frankie Fredericks finally pipped him to the finish line in a lesser meet.

However, on July 13, Johnson fell victim to a bout of food poisoning after eating at a restaurant. He failed to recover fully and was eliminated in the semifinals.

On his own

Five weeks before the Atlanta Games, the Texan athlete displayed his intention to dominate the 200 by beating a long-held record, one set in Mexico by Italian Pietro Mennea in 1979 (19.72). Johnson obliged his fans with a time of 19.66.

Johnson did not need the benefit of runner-friendly air, as had Mennea, to give him the edge over his adversaries. However, the presence of athletes who were capable of pushing him to the limit was a relevant factor in his record-breaking achievement. He was joined on the start line by Fredericks and by Ato Boldon from Trinidad and Tobago. Fredericks' run also bettered Mennea's, but by only four-hundredths of a second (19.68).

But Johnson found himself alone in Atlanta, coming out of the bend after a perfect start. All that remained for him to do was to focus on the finish line and keep his short, sharp strides powering home.

After crossing the finish line, the man best known for this particular running style was overjoyed at learning that he had again bettered the world record -- this time by a more significant margin. He found it difficult to express his joy at this achievement, the noise from the stadium being so overwhelming.

"I have never heard such an explosion at the finish line. It's the greatest thing I have achieved in my life," Johnson said after his victory lap, while an ecstatic public joined in the celebration, shouting "USA, USA."

Johnson had to top off his win by running his victory lap with a strapped leg because of a muscle strain that, unfortunately, would keep him out of the 4x400 relay. This presumably prevented him from winning a potentially easy third gold medal.

Copyright 2008 Agence France-Presse.

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