Seville 1999 - Men's 400m final Michael Johnson celebrates his 43.18 World 400m record victory (Getty Images) © Copyright
General News Pretoria, South Africa

Johnson steals the show in Pretoria

Double world record holder Michael Johnson made history when he became the first person to ever set a world best performance on African soil.

He held the capacity crowd at Pretoria’s Pilditch stadium spellbound as he cruised to a 30.85 seconds victory in the 300 metres at the Engen Grand Prix II meeting held at the Pilditch Stadium in Pretoria, South Africa.

Apart from erasing the previous best of 31.48 which compatriot Danny Everett and Roberto Hernandez of Cuba achieved in the same race in Salamanca, back in 1992, he became the first person to break the 31 seconds in this rarely contested event.

"I used a 200 metre strategy for the race. I got out of my blocks fast, and backed off for the second 50 metres. From the 200 metre mark, l pretty much went all out. Competing in the 300m has a totally different feel from the 400m and 200m. Although it is not an Olympic event, l am proud of being the fastest person ever in this event.

"What’s more, l bettered the mark by quite a bit of time for a sprints event. I was not surprised by the margin of improvement as l expected to run under 31 seconds. If this race was run more, l guess l can even improve the best time ever by a wider margin. It has been an honour coming to Africa and breaking a record in front of such a supportive crowd. Crowd support helps athletes perform better," said Johnson.

Looking ahead, he says this sparkling performance fortifies his confidence as he prepares to defend his 400m and 200m Olympic titles in Sydney. "This performance indicates steady progress since l began training last November. Clearly, l am on track to not only bettering my world records but defending my Olympic titles, which is my main goal this year.

"My goal is to stay healthy and everything eles will fall in place. As long as l stay healthy, l am confident that there is no one out there that can best me, " said the double Olympic champion.

For the first time in three years world javelin record holder Jan Zelezny (Czech Republic) cracked the 90 metres mark in the javelin. "I have had a shoulder injury for the past two years which has kept me away from performing at my best. I am happy as tonight’s performance proves l have finally got over the injury and l am on my way to regaining form," said Zelezny.

Zelezny first visited South Africa in 1993. Ever since then, he has made an annual pilgrimage to Potchefstroom to train with a group of throwers including South Africa’s 1997 world champion Marius Corbett. "I like South Africa and enjoy the training atmosphere in Potchefstroom. This is probably why l was able to set a world record (95.54) in 1995," said Zelezny . He later bettered that mark to 98.48 in Jena, Germany in 1996.

"This year I want to win another Olympic gold medal," said Zelezny. The 34 year old Czeck is the most decorated javelin thrower in Olympic history. He was a silver medallist in Seoul (1988) and won gold in Barcelona (1992) and Atlanta (1996).

For the second time in just under a week Patrick Dwyer (Australia) bettered his career best. His winning time of 44.73 was 0.02 seconds faster than his winning time last wek. In the process his main challengers South Africans Hendrik Mokganyetsi (44.85) and Marcus la Grange (44.99) set their career bests.

"I tried to run my own race after sustaining a strain in my left hamstring during the week. It always was a factor in my mind. That is why l started conservatively. On the backstraight, l felt fine and just went hard. I feel l can go much faster during the Olympics. It been a long Australian season and l am tired . I go home and get back to training . Hopefully l can run a lower 44 seconds during the Olympcs, "said Dwyer.

World Cup Champion, Fallilat Ogunkoya (Nigeria) started her outdoor season on a high when she won the 400m in 50.84. "I was a bit apprehensive before the race as l only arrived yesterday after a long flight from Alberqueque (USA).

"Besides, I have been training but not competed outdoors. This is a good start for me. Sydney will probably be my last Olympics and l want to be among the medallists," said Ogunkoya who was a bronze medallist at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.

Llewellyn Herbert (South Africa) continued to improve winning the 400m hurdles in 48.37. Patrick van Balkom pulled a double winning the 100m and 200m in 10.24 and 20.43 seconds respectively. Africa junior 800m champion Mbulaeni Mulaudzi improved his career best by 0.64 second with a winning time of 1:45.99.

Beatrice Faumina (New Zealand) won the women’s discus in 61.50, before finishing third in shot put in 15.16. Lawrence Johnson (USA) won the pole vault with a vault of 5.90. He made three couragerous attempts at 6.03. Although he did not succeed, there is every indication that it is a matter of time before he cracks the 6 metres mark.

The last record of the meeting was set by the South Africa men’s 4x100m The combined effort of Leeroy Newton, Paul Gorries, La Grange and Matthew Quinn) bettered the national record they set two weeks ago by 0.19 to 38.50.

Mark Ouma for IAAF