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|September 7, 2000||
Johnson seeks to extend streakGene Cherry
In more than a decade of international competition, Michael Johnson has never won anything other than gold in a major championship.
Despite injury and illness the American has captured three Olympic gold medals and nine world titles.
Now, as he prepares for his final Olympics, the 200 and 400 metre world record holder has another slice of history in mind: he wants to be the first man to successfully defend the Olympic 400 metres title.
"I want to keep my record sparkling," said Johnson, who will celebrate his 33rd birthday on September 13.
"At this point I have done everything that could possibly be done in the sport," said the Texan, who in Atlanta became the first man ever to win both the 200 and 400 metres in the same Games.
"But this is an Olympic year and I love competition and I know from past experience that in an Olympic year everybody's at their best. There's no better feeling than to win and beat everybody when they're at their best."
Cramp and a slight hamstring strain in the U.S. Olympic trials 200-metre final, where Maurice Greene was also injured, ended Johnson's hopes of bidding to repeat his Atlanta success.
Yet, the challenge remains to make his last Games "a special one," perhaps with a 400-metre run as stunning as his world-record 200-metre performance of 19.32 seconds in Atlanta.
"For me, my best times always come after rounds," Johnson said in an interview. "I put a lot of pressure on myself and I go out there and I benefit from it."
The weather could be a major factor in Sydney and Johnson said: "If the opportunity presents itself and the conditions are right where I can make a run at 42 (seconds), I'm ready."
He took the 400-metre world record from compatriot Butch Reynolds with a tremendous run of 43.18 seconds last year in Seville but would badly like to smash the 43-second barrier before he retires, perhaps after next season.
The world title was Johnson's fourth consecutive one over 400 metres, a streak that has no equal in the Olympics. For 24 consecutive Games different men have crossed the finish line first in the demanding one-lap event.
Johnson is also hoping that he and his American team mates can take a few more ticks off the 4x400 metres world record in Sydney.
He wants to have fun, too. "Not that I didn't enjoy the last Games," he said. "I had a tremendous opportunity and that was what I wanted to be doing."
But these Games will be different. "I don't want to get there and the Olympics are going on and I start running, then I stop running and the Olympics are over," said Johnson, who plans to take in Sydney's opening ceremony.
Some of Johnson's rivals have already accepted that defeat is inevitable.
Trevor Graham, the coach of Antonio Pettigrew, said in an interview: "I told Pettigrew we are not even going to concentrate our focus on trying to win the gold in the 400.
"Just think realistically and just leave the man alone and just focus and try and grab that silver medal. If we can catch him, fine but we are not going in worrying about Michael Johnson. We just want to make sure we take that silver medal."
But Johnson scoffed at the notion that he was untouchable, noting that it was Pettigrew who had ended his string of 58 consecutive 400-metre victories with an upset triumph in 1997.
But in major championships Johnson still looks unbeatable.
"It's a great job," he said. " I make a lot of money to do something I love to do. You can't beat that. "
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