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Michael Johnson ready to return to the top at 200 meters

SHARE Michael Johnson ready to return to the top at 200 meters

RALEIGH, N.C. (Reuters) -- Double Olympic champion Michael Johnson issued a warning Wednesday to sprinters who have dominated the 200 meters in recent years.

"I expect to be back at the top of my game this year," said Johnson, who, because of nagging leg problems, has been unable to push his 200-meter time below 20 seconds since 1996. That was the year he twice smashed the world record, the second time dropping it to a stunning 19.32 seconds."Certainly I can get back to the low 19s again," said Johnson via telephone from his training camp in Waco, Texas. "I don't doubt that at all.

"I wasn't able to sprint the way I needed to the last couple of years. But now I'm back in shape and confident."

Confident enough that he predicted a shake-up in the 200-meter world rankings, where last year, for the first time since 1989, Johnson failed to gain top-10 status.

"I hope to end the season ranked No. 1," he said, cognizant that world champion Ato Boldon of Trinidad and Namibian Olympic silver medalist Frankie Fredericks would again be pressing him.

The hard-running Texan also signaled that his chase of Butch Reynolds' 1988 400-meter world record of 43.29 had not ended.

"The objective is to go out there and run faster than I ever have," said Johnson, who has led the world 400-meter rankings for an unparalleled eight consecutive years. "My PR (personal record) is a tenth of a second away from the world record. If I run faster than my PR, I'm probably under the world record."

Preparing for a pair of season-opening 200s in South Africa later this month, Johnson said he felt "on track" to be in the kind of shape he was in 1995 and '96 when he claimed unprecedented victories in both the 200 and 400 meters at the Gothenburg world championships and Atlanta Olympics.

"Training has been excellent," he said.

The hamstring and Achilles problems, which slowed him in 1997 and wiped out his participation in last year's U.S. championships, appear under control.

"I haven't had any problems since the beginning of last June," said Johnson.

He will not decide until June whether the 200 or 400 will be his focus for this year's world championships in Seville, but he will not do both.