Ben Johnson had been waiting for, planning for the moment.

He had claimed to be the world's fastest human -- but few had listened.

He had not been ranked No. 1 in the 100 meters until last year, and even then remained relatively unknown.

He had beaten Carl Lewis four straight times, but he needed both Lewis and a forum. And that came Sunday in the world track and field championships.

Only the 100 final mattered to Johnson; Lewis ran the faster qualifying times.

The final provided one of those rare performances in sports when a great athlete gives a peak performance at the perfect time. Johnson, a Canadian, did that -- and then some. His 9.83-second world record before 65,000 in Rome's Olympic stadium already has been likened to Bob Beamon's 29-foot 2 1/2-inch long jump in the 1968 Olympics. Even Lewis was astounded.

"If you had asked me before the race, no," said Lewis, when asked if he could have imagined such a performance by Johnson.

Lewis ran faster than he ever has, 9.93, equaling the former record set by Calvin Smith in Colorado in 1983. But that record was set at high altitude, which aids times; Johnson's mark was all the more impressive for being made at close to sea level.

Johnson's next major goal is Olympic gold a year from now in Seoul. The only way he could top his Sunday sprint would be to win the Olympics in another record time. If he did, it wouldn't surprise anyone now, especially Lewis.

Johnson, 25, has overtaken Lewis, 26, as the world's premier sprinter since they ran one-three in the Los Angeles Olympics. Two 9.95s at sea level were indications that Johnson could do something like break a four-year record by an impressive tenth of a second. (Before Smith's 9.93, Jim Hines had held the record of 9.95, set at Mexico City's high altitude, since 1968. Hines' 9.9, also set in 1968, was the first sub-10-second 100 meters.)

Johnson had been working toward his achievement for years.

Born in Falmouth, Jamaica, he was taken to Canada in 1976 when his family relocated. Money was scarce -- Johnson and some friends once were picked up by police for catching and roasting a pigeon in a Toronto park for a meal.

He began running competitively at 14, after being introduced to the sport by an older brother, a good runner who belonged to a track club. (Johnson speaks with a stutter, picked up from imitating a brother who stuttered.) Johnson was slight, but almost immediately he showed plenty of speed, winning a 100-meter race for youths in 11 seconds -- without wearing spiked shoes.

He filled out -- he is 5 feet 11, 165 pounds -- partly through weight lifting advised by his coach, Canadian former sprint star Charlie Francis. Francis believes that upper body strength is important in sprinting, especially in the starts. Johnson lifts almost every day, and he has gained "thrust and power" -- the thrust is apparent when he leaves the blocks, and the power usually enables him to hold on to the leads produced by his explosive starts.

He has remained with Francis, and improved steadily. "My coach said if you want to be No. 1 in the world, you have to practice every day," Johnson has said. "It doesn't matter how fast you are or how good you are, you have to have the coach to direct your workouts. You need a coach to help motivate you."

By 1986 Johnson was No. 1. What he lacked was a fast track to fame -- Lewis, winner of four Olympic golds in 1984, had that.

Francis, for a while, referred to Johnson as "the Rodney Dangerfield of track and field." Sunday's race has made him famous -- not as famous, perhaps, as Magic Johnson, or Don Johnson. But famous.

Since 1985, Johnson has said he could beat Lewis -- but his confidence never generated the attention it has in the last two days. Of his next major goal, the Olympics, Johnson has said, "I think I'll still be the best in the world when it comes around. As long as I don't have any injuries . . . If I stay on target, I shouldn't have any problems taking the gold in 1988."