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Sports Then and Now



A Look Back at the 1996 Summer Olympics 24

Posted on July 20, 2011 by A.J. Foss

Muhammad Ali lights the torch to start the Summer Olympics in Atlanta.

Atlanta was a surprise selection to host the Centennial Olympic Games in the summer of 1996, as many observers believed that the Games should be held in Athens, Greece since the inaugural games were held there in 1896.

But thanks to lobbying from former Atlanta mayor Andrew Young, Atlanta was chosen to host the Centennial Games on September 18, 1990.

Nearly six years later, the city hosted the opening ceremonies in front of 85, 000 fans at Centennial Olympic Stadium (now Turner Field).

The ceremonies ended in dramatic fashion with 1960 Olympic Gold Medalist Muhammad Ali, lighting the Olympic Torch, signifying the start of the Games.
Ali would receive a replacement gold medal for the one he lost, at halftime of the men’s basketball gold medal game.

As far as the competition was concerned, the Americans were expected to dominate the medal count as this would be the first Olympics with the former countries of the Soviet Union participating as individual countries.

The individual with the highest expectations entering these Olympics was U.S. sprinter Michael Johnson, who was trying to become the first man to win the 200-meter and 400-meter races in the same Olympiad.

Johnson had performed this feat at the 1995 Track & Field World Championships, and one month earlier, he broke the world record in the 200 m with a time of 19.66 seconds.

Michael Johnson stunned himself and the rest of the world with his 19.32 run in the 200 meters.

Wearing golden shoes, Johnson won the 400 m with an Olympic record time of 43.49 seconds, and then won the 200 m with by shattering his own world record, running that race in a remarkable 19.32 seconds.

It was redemption for Johnson who had entered the 1992 Olympics as the favorite to win the 200 meters, but failed to qualify for the final heat.

Johnson was not the only U.S. Olympian to pull off a historic feat in Atlanta as U.S. swimmer Amy Van Dyken became the first woman to win four gold medals at the same Olympiad.

Van Dyken won two individual races, the 50m freestyle and the 100m butterfly, and was part of the 4 x 100 meter freestyle relay and the 4 x 100 meter medley relay in earning her four gold medals.

Van Dyken’s performance came in a banner Olympics for American woman, as the woman’s basketball, softball, soccer, and gymnastics teams all won gold medals. Read the rest of this entry →

Track and Field Rewind: Michael Johnson, 1993 2

Posted on June 21, 2011 by Rojo Grande

Even the great Michael Johnson had to work his way up the ladder.

The world’s greatest quarter-miler has enjoyed over two decades of respect and admiration. As is true of most iconic sports figures, Michael Johnson has seemingly always been the face of his primary event – the men’s 400 meter run.

But there was a time when Johnson was shunned from the exclusive club of tried-and-true world-class 400m runners.

Fittingly, it was in the magical confines of Eugene’s Hayward Field – and the 1993 USA Outdoor Track and Field Championships – where Johnson paid his dues and entered the club.

Or at least got his foot in the door.

Johnson’s credentials to that point certainly merited attention. He was undefeated lifetime in all his 400m finals races. He was the only human to have broken both the 20-second barrier in the 200m (19.79) and 44-second barrier in the 400m (43.98).

Yet his elite 400m detractors questioned his durability and conditioning. Johnson was regarded as a 200m man who only ran the 400 in single races – without having to endure the grueling qualifying rounds of say, the World Championships or Olympics.

In addition, Johnson’s relatively short physical stature and running style – leaning backward, with short choppy strides – defied the accepted convention for a true 400m runner.

And so, as if to make a statement in Eugene as to his conditioning, Johnson arrogantly burst into a huge lead in his preliminary heat, then casually ambled – almost walked – to the finish line in 45.62.

World record holder Butch Reynolds (43.29), seeing the gauntlet thrown down, kept his powder dry in his quarterfinal heat but then blistered the track in the semis (44.81).

Quincy Watts, the 1992 Barcelona Olympic champion (43.50) also saw Johnson’s display and was determined to overcome an injury-plagued season (only five races) and put the young upstart in his proper place. Read the rest of this entry →

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