Michael Johnson shrugged off four false starts and the sight of a rival running in bare feet to win his first heat in the 200 meters today in his quest for an unprecedented double world championships.
The American, who defended his 400-meter title Wednesday in the second-fastest time in history, clocked 20.57 seconds while easing up almost to a jog at the finish line.Defending 200-meter titlist Frankie Fredericks of Namibia (and BYU) also made it to the second round by winning his heat in a modest 20.73. The fastest qualifier was Brazil's Claudinel De Silva in 20.44.
Meanwhile, Russia's Svetlana Moskalets looked set to replace Jackie Joyner Kersee as world heptathlon champion by winning three of the five events.
She opened up a huge lead of 158 points over Hungary's Rita Inancsi with the javelin and 800 meters to go thanks to an impressive 21-foot-113/4 leap in the long jump.
American Kym Carter, who was third after four events, slipped to seventh after a long jump of 20-11/2.
Portugal's Fernanda Ribeiro, who won the women's 10,000 meters Wednesday, cruised into Saturday's first ever 5,000 final by finishing third in her heat behind Kenya's Rose Cheruiyot and Morocco's Zohra Quaziz.
Ireland's Sonia O'Sullivan, clocked 15 minutes, 13.88 seconds to win her heat in the first round of the 5,000.
Racing in an early 200-meter heat, Johnson and the other seven runners, including bare-footed Swede Torbjorn Ericksson, had to wait through four false starts and five frustrating minutes.
Three false starts were before the gun as it appeared some of the competitors weren't putting their feet into the blocks properly and weren't registering on the starting mechanism.
Johnson won his heat easily ahead of second place Jean-Charles Trouabal of France in 20.66. Ericksson finished sixth in 21.03 and didn't make it to the second-round later today. The semifinals and finals are scheduled Friday.
Johnson is aiming the become the first man to win both the 200 and 400 meters at a major international competition. The only woman to do it is Valerie Brisco-Hooks at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles.
"I woke up at 5 a.m. and couldn't sleep anymore," Johnson said after his heat. "I went to bed at 11:30 last night. During the 400s I was going to bed at 1 o'clock.
"Everything's going according to plan although the false starts were a little frustrating."
Not satisfied with his quest to become the first man to win the 200- and 400-meter world titles, the American powerhouse chased after Butch Reynolds' 7-year-old mark Wednesday in the final.
And he even had Reynolds in his sights, in the next lane immediately ahead.
"I have to admit I really wanted to break the world record. But I'm very pleased with my time," Johnson said after clocking 43.39, .10 seconds off the world mark.
"It gives me a lot of confidence. I think I'll eventually break the world record.
"When you're running that hard and know you can get the record, then look up at the clock and see 43.39, you'd almost rather see 43.7 or 43.8," Johnson said.
"You think if I had run the first 150 meters just a little harder, or run the middle 150 a little faster, or run harder down the stretch, I could have gotten it.
"It's a bit upsetting that I didn't get it. But it excites me to do things no one else has done." Johnson said.
"Now that I've won, I have a lot of incentive to go and get that other gold medal."
Other finals were the women's 200 meters, with 100-meter rivals Gwen Torrence, Merlene Ottey and Irina Privalova set to meet again, the men's 400 hurdles and 50-kilometer walk, the women's triple jump and the finish of the heptathlon.
Johnson put the world record attempt in perspective.
"Of course, the possibility of the world record was there, but more important was to win," he said.
Johnson gradually made up the stagger and then, with his legs pumping low and at full strength in his own ugly but effective style, turned on the power in the middle of the race.
The 35,000 fans in the stadium whooped and gasped as Johnson accelerated on the bend from from 200-300 meters. Going into the straightaway he was seven yards clear and had stretched that to nine by the finish.
Reynolds, who set his world mark of 43.29 just under seven years ago, placed second in 44.22 and Jamaica's Greg Haughton edged Samson Kitur of Kenya for the bronze in 44.56.
The third American in the race, Darren Hall, placed sixth in 44.83.
Johnson gets his next opportunity to break the world record next Wednesday at Zurich. He will have to run only a final instead of three rounds before the final like he did at the World Championships.
"When I run just one race, I think I will have a good chance to break it," Johnson said after going under 44 seconds for a record eighth time.
"On Wednesday in Zurich that record will fall," Hall said. "Michael can break the record any hour, any day, any time. He's in a class by himself."