washingtonpost.com  > Sports > Leagues and Sports > Olympics > 2004 > Sport-by-Sport > Track and Field

Johnson Falls in Hurdles

World Champion Crashes Out; 18-Year-Old Felix Wins Silver

By Amy Shipley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 26, 2004; Page D01

ATHENS, Aug. 25 -- This shouldn't have been troublesome, not at all. It was round two of the 110-meter hurdles. An easy round. U.S. hurdler Allen Johnson, the winner of four straight world titles, has been one of the most consistent track champions of the last eight years. He didn't have to win this race. He merely had to get over all the hurdles.

So it was a considerable problem and a thoroughly unusual circumstance when Johnson went under, rather than over, hurdle 10.

"I fell down. I don't know why," said Allen Johnson after tumbling headfirst from mishap in 110-meter hurdles. (Rusty Kennedy -- AP)

_____ Day 13 _____
World champion Allen Johnson falls and is out of the 110-meter hurdles.
Austria's Kate Allen wins the women's triathlon with a late surge.
Wrestler Rulon Gardner wins a bronze medal.
Russia's Olga Slyusareva wins the women's cycling points race.
A windsurfer gives Israel its first Olympic gold.
The U.S. women's basketball team crushes Greece.
American Andre Dirrell advances to the boxing semifinals.
Cuba downs Australia to win baseball gold.
Brazil tops Spain for the gold in men's beach volleyball.
Russia's Yulia Pakhalina leads in the 3-meter springboard diving.

_____ More From The Post _____
Michael Wilbon: Marion Jones is right here, smack in the middle of Athens, and we miss her.
Mike Wise: Gardner retired in one of the finest traditions of sport.
Sally Jenkins: Van Chancellor has hit the jackpot as coach of the U.S. women's basketball team.
Soccer gold is the goal in the finale for Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy and Joy Fawcett.
The U.S. men's basketball team faces a tall order in Spain.
Athens honors American winners with a kinder, gentler national anthem.

_____ On Our Site _____
Athens Snippets: We're ready for these Olympics to be over.

___ Wednesday's Medals Results ___
Women's 200
Women's 400 hurdles
Women's hammer
Gold-medal game
Beach Volleyball
Cycling (Track)
Men's madison
Men's keirin
Women's points race
Individual dressage
Men's mistral
Women's mistral
Synchronized Swimming
Over 105Kg
Wrestling (Greco-Roman)
Men's 55kg
Men's 66kg
Men's 84kg
Men's 120kg

_____ Multimedia _____
Audio: The Post's Barry Svrluga on women's triathlon.
Audio: Joanna Hayes sets an olympic record in the 100-meter hurdles.
Audio: Misty May and Kerri Walsh discuss their beach volleyball victory.

_____ Photos _____
Day 13
Photo galleries page

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Johnson's quest for a second Olympic gold medal ended with a spectacular headfirst dive that would have been perfect at the baseball venue. After running square into the ninth hurdle with his lead foot, Johnson, a District native, was propelled forward. The impact knocked off his sunglasses and sent him skidding down the track, arms extended.

On a night American Allyson Felix, 18, continued the rampage of young U.S. stars by winning a silver medal in the women's 200 meters and Marion Jones easily qualified for the long jump final, Johnson saw the finish line only when he lifted his head off the track. After several seconds, the Lake Braddock High graduate buried his head in his hands.

"I fell down," Johnson said. "I don't know why."

Felix's performance was as notable, but far less perplexing. Wearing a silver necklace, silver earrings and shiny silver track shoes, Felix kept within striking distance of Jamaica's Veronica Campbell, 22, but couldn't quite run her down. Campbell earned the gold medal in 22.05 seconds. Felix finished in 22.18, setting a world junior record in the process.

Bahamian Debbie Ferguson, 28, won the bronze in 22.30. American Muna Lee finished tied for seventh in 22.87.

After the race, Felix fielded questions with the poise of someone 10 years her senior. She said she had matured, adapting to life as a track professional a year after tearing up high school tracks in Southern California. Despite having the slight build of a middle-distance runner, Felix, a minister's daughter, tore confidently through four grueling rounds.

By the time Wednesday's race rolled around, Felix believed she could win the gold.

"Definitely part of me is disappointed," she said. "That's what I came here for . . . [but] I have a lot of confidence. I'm very excited about the future."

She and young U.S. stars Justin Gatlin, Lauryn Williams and Jeremy Wariner have stolen the headlines this week. Johnson, meantime, joined a list of disappointed veterans wondering what happened. Stacy Dragila didn't qualify in the pole vault. Gail Devers got knocked out of the 100 hurdles. Angelo Taylor didn't advance in the 400 hurdles. John Godina failed to medal in the shot put.

"Allen is my idol," China's Liu Xiang said. "I do regret that he's not in the semifinal. Without Allen Johnson, the race is still fully open."

Johnson shed no tears Wednesday, though he wasn't exactly in the mood for talking. He unzipped the top of his U.S. team uniform and sauntered through the media zone, waving away most of the cameras and questions.

"I'm fairly disappointed," he said during a brief interview. "But, hey, it happens. I'll be watching the final -- unfortunately."

What seemed so uncomplicated quickly got complicated as Johnson, 33, rumbled down the course. He struck the third, fourth and fifth hurdles hard, nearly tripping at one point. But he righted himself, somehow, smoothly sailing over hurdles six through eight.

"I thought I was in control," he said. "I thought I had pretty much gotten things back together."

Johnson had not. He barreled into the ninth hurdle as Latvia's Stanislavs Olijars won the heat in 13.26 seconds. Johnson said it was only the second time in his career he had ever fallen in a race. The other time came two years ago in South Africa.

Johnson won the Olympic gold at the 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta in a time that remains the Olympic record: 12.95 seconds. He went to the 2000 Summer Games in Sydney favored to repeat, but a hamstring injury that flared up two weeks before the Olympics slowed him. He finished fourth. Afterward, he was disconsolate.

"It's just hard dealing with it -- going from the gold to nothing, it hurts," Johnson said then. "I feel like the rug was pulled out from under me. From this day forward in my career, I'm starting over. I have nothing."

Johnson proceeded to salve his disappointment with a pair of world titles, but he kept his focus on these Games. He wanted to become the third high hurdler in Olympic history, along with Roger Kingdom and Lee Calhoun, to win two golds.

Johnson came here the favorite. He not only had the fastest time of the year, but he had put together one of his most dominant seasons. He won the U.S. indoor championships, the world indoor championships and 10 other significant races.

There were hints, however, that even Johnson was susceptible to the occasional collapse.

Prior to Wednesday, he had just one other mystifying race: the final at the July U.S. Olympic trials. He finished third, barely qualifying for these Games, after having dominated the early rounds of the event. Afterward, he was angry and confused. He said he had no idea what had happened.

Wednesday, he insisted there was no connection between his baffling final at the trials and his meltdown in the Olympic race.

"Those were two isolated incidents," he said. "It just so happens they were the two biggest meets of the year."

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