Allen Johnson won the gold medal at the 1996 Olympics, the 1997 world championships and the 1995 worlds.

Yet tonight, before something as insignificant as a first-round qualifying heat for the 110-meter hurdles at this year's world championships, Johnson was as nervous as a kid out of college.

"That was probably as scared as I've been in recent memory," Johnson said after the early race.

Johnson nonetheless advanced, finishing first in his first-round heat and fourth in the quarterfinal later. Still, the evening's performances -- and his reaction to them -- hinted that the Lake Braddock High graduate would be hard-pressed to win his third straight world title.

Johnson strained his right calf during a training session in June. Before today's first-round race, Johnson had not run a competitive meet since being injured. In fact, he had barely gone over hurdles, even in practice, as his injured leg could not hold up under the pounding.

"I think [this championships] is going to be the hardest one because I have been out and there are so many people running fast," Johnson said.

Johnson's quarterfinal was interrupted by three false starts, probably because of the deafening noise as the Olympic Stadium crowd cheered Spanish long jump champion Niurka Montalvo, who competed on the other side of the stadium.

"Frustrating," Johnson said about the race in which he ran a 13.48. "I had a bad race."

Johnson caught a break when U.S. teammate Mark Crear, who defeated Johnson at the U.S. championships, was disqualified after two false starts in his quarterfinal. That leaves England's Colin Jackson as the favorite.

The world track and field governing body (IAAF) denied a protest filed by USA Track and Field over the disqualification of Crear, who possesses the fastest time in the world this year.

U.S. track officials charged that a machine malfunction was improperly registering false starts. Four false starts occurred in Crear's heat. But the IAAF responded that its rulebook states that the decision of a starter cannot be appealed.

"Right now, I'm at a loss for words," Crear said. "I trained all year, and I was prepared to take maybe a silver or a bronze -- but I never prepared for this. I don't know how to answer for this."

Austin Fares Poorly

U.S. high jumper Charles Austin careered into the bar on his last attempt tonight, jumping so poorly it looked as if he were trying to take out the bar on the attempt.

The reigning Olympic gold medalist once again saw his world championship hopes dashed miserably. Austin, who failed to advance to the final round in both 1995 and 1997, at least managed to make it to the finals.

But he missed his first two attempts at 7 feet 6 inches. He converted his third attempt, but then missed all three at 7-7 1/4.

Russia's Vyacheslav Voronin won the gold with a jump of 7-9 1/4 and Canada's Mark Boswell won the silver (7-8 1/2).

Reid Advances

Eleanor Roosevelt High graduate Suziann Reid finished fourth (51.19 seconds) in her 400-meter quarterfinal tonight to advance to the semifinals. . . . German Franka Dietzsch won her first world title in the discus.