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20 years ago today: The World’s Fastest Man race

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On June 1, 1997, Olympic 100m champion Donovan Bailey and Olympic 200m and 400m champion Michael Johnson raced at SkyDome in Toronto to determine The World’s Fastest Man.

At the 1996 Atlanta Games, the Canadian Bailey won gold by breaking the 100m world record (clocking 9.84 seconds). Likewise, Johnson shattered his 200m world record (19.32) in his famous golden shoes in Atlanta.

That sparked a debate. Which sprinter was more deserving of the “World’s Fastest Man” title? Normally, it’s associated with the Olympic 100m champion.

Bailey wasn’t much of a 200m runner. Johnson was an even rarer sight in the 100m. They had never gone head-to-head, according to Tilastopaja.org.

So the match race was set up at the Toronto Blue Jays ballpark as part of an hourlong TV special.

The day before, star U.S. distance runner Mary Slaney was suspended for suspicious testosterone levels at the 1996 Olympic Trials. The day after, Jean Chrétien was re-elected as Canadian Prime Minster.

The meet also featured one-on-one matchups in other events, most notably Jackie Joyner-Kersee and German rival Heike Drechsler in the long jump. Plus a Blues Brothers performance. Marcus Camby was among those in attendance, following his rookie season with the Toronto Raptors.

But the stage was truly for Bailey and Johnson, who traded verbal jabs in the seven-month lead-up. Each man received a $500,000 appearance fee, with another $1 million to the winner.

There was much more to the pre-event story. Bailey threatened to pull out hours before the start in a “pathetic press release,” as detailed by Sports Illustrated.

The race — the first 75 meters on a curve and the last 75 a straightaway — was a dud.

How Bailey would negotiate the curve was a concern, but he passed Johnson in the first 50 meters. Whether Bailey had the endurance to hold off Johnson beyond 100 meters went unanswered, however.

Johnson pulled up with an apparent leg injury. That led to immediate suspicion that Johnson gave up rather than finish in second place.

Bailey crossed the finish line alone in 14.99 seconds. The stock broker-turned-sprinter looked back amid unimpressive pyrotechnics. He taunted, waving a right hand toward a stalled Johnson in the distance.

“He didn’t pull up at all; he’s just a chicken,” Bailey said on CBC in a post-race interview. “He’s afraid to lose. I think what he should do is run this race over again, so I can kick his ass one more time.”

Bailey has since attributed that incendiary comment to an extension of the pre-race verbal posturing.

Johnson was asked in a post-race press conference if he “threw the race” or was “genuinely injured” and declined comment. He also refused to shoot back at Bailey’s insults.

Turns out, Johnson was injured. A strained left quadriceps. He missed the U.S. Championships later that summer and only made the 1997 World Championships — where he repeated as 400m champ — after the IAAF instituted a policy giving a bye to defending world champions.

Bailey finished second to Maurice Greene in the 100m at worlds. Greene snatched Bailey’s world record in 1999 by running 9.79.

Johnson’s 200m world record stood until Usain Bolt broke it in 2008 (19.30, followed by 19.19 in 2009). Johnson finally gave up his 400m world record to South African Wayde van Niekerk at the Rio Olympics.

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World championships rematches in Birmingham; Diamond League preview

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Several newly crowned world champions headline a Diamond League meet in Birmingham, Great Britain, on Sunday, live on NBC Sports Gold and The Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA.

Coverage begins on NBC Sports Gold at 8:20 a.m. ET and on the Olympic Channel at 10 a.m.

Many stars made the 125-mile trek northwest from London, where worlds concluded last Sunday, to Birmingham for the last Diamond League meet before the finals in Zurich (Aug. 24) and Brussels (Sept. 1).

They include Allyson FelixMo FarahElaine Thompson and Shaunae Miller-Uibo, plus surprise world champs Emma CoburnPhyllis Francis and Ramil Guliyev.

Here are the Birmingham entry lists. Here’s the schedule of events (all times Eastern):

8:22 a.m. — Women’s Pole Vault
8:31 a.m. — Men’s Long Jump
8:41 a.m. — Women’s 800m
9:30 a.m. — Men’s Mile
9:39 a.m. — Men’s High Jump
9:47 a.m. — Women’s Discus
10:03 a.m. — Women’s 400m Hurdles
10:14 a.m. — Men’s 800m
10:23 a.m. — Men’s 100m
10:28 a.m. — Women’s Triple Jump
10:32 a.m. — Men’s 400m
10:40 a.m. — Women’s 3000m
10:53 a.m. — Men’s Shot Put
10:57 a.m. — Men’s 110m Hurdles
11:08 a.m. — Women’s 100m
11:17 a.m. — Men’s 200m
11:26 a.m. — Women’s 1500m
11:36 a.m. — Women’s 400m
11:45 a.m. — Men’s 3000m

Here are five events to watch:

Women’s 3000m — 10:40 a.m.
Emma Coburn and Courtney Frerichs, the surprise one-two finishers in the world championships 3000m steeplechase, race without the barriers and water jumps here. The two fastest American steeplers of all time face the two fastest Americans in the 5000m all time — Shannon Rowbury and Molly Huddle.

But the favorite has to be Kenyan Hellen Obiri, who is the fastest woman since 1993 in this non-Olympic event. Obiri dusted 10,000m world-record holder Almaz Ayana with her kick to win the world 5000m crown on Sunday.

Men’s Shot Put — 10:53 a.m.
Ten of the top 11 finishers from worlds are here, including the medalists — Tomas Walsh (NZL), Joe Kovacs (USA) and Stipe Žunić (CRO).

Nobody has been more impressive this season than Olympic champion Ryan Crouser, who will look to make up for his shocking sixth-place finish from London. Crouser owns five of the world’s top six throws in 2017, including a 22.65-meter heave at the USATF Outdoor Championships. That’s two feet farther than Walsh’s world title-winning throw.

Women’s 100m — 11:08 a.m.
An interesting field will race in two heats to qualify for this final. It does not include Tori Bowie, who in London became the first American woman to take a global 100m crown since 2005.

But it does include Olympic 100m champion Elaine Thompson, who earned zero medals at worlds while reportedly slowed by a stomach illness and an Achilles problem. World 100m silver and bronze medalists Marie-Josée Ta Lou and Dafne Schippers are also in the field.

Two Olympic champions making their Diamond League 100m debuts are Sally Pearson, the 2012 Olympic 100m hurdles gold medalist, and Rio 400m champion Shaunae Miller-Uibo.

Men’s 200m — 11:17 a.m.
Who would have thought six months ago that a Diamond League 200m without Usain BoltAndre De GrasseWayde van Niekerk or Justin Gatlin would be one of the headline events?

After the surprise at worlds, this one is intriguing. Turkey’s Ramil Guliyev is entered after winning an out-of-nowhere gold medal in London. He’ll face a man with reason to carry a chip on his shoulder — Botswana’s Isaac Makwala. Makwala has the fastest 200m time in the world this year but finished sixth at worlds, likely in part due to his medical controversy and having to run an extra 200m heat alone the night before the final.

Women’s 400m — 11:36 a.m.
The three world medalists return here, hopefully to race in better weather conditions. American Phyllis Francis surpassed Allyson Felix and a stumbling Miller-Uibo to claim gold on a wet, chilly night in London last week in the slowest world championships-winning time ever. Bahrain’s Salwa Eid Naser clipped Felix for silver, with Miller-Uibo falling to fourth.

Felix still owns the fastest time in the world this year and, with Miller-Uibo choosing to race the 100m in Birmingham, is a quarter of a second faster than anyone in this field in 2017.

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VIDEO: Ten memorable races from worlds

U.S., Great Britain to hold track and field dual meet

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The U.S. and Great Britain go head-to-head in a track and field meet on July 21 at the London Olympic Stadium.

“The Meet” will include nine running, jumping, hurdles and relay events and last two hours. Specific events and athletes will be announced early next year.

The U.S. topped the overall medal standings at every Olympics and world outdoor championships since 2004.

Great Britain is one of three countries to earn at least five medals at every Olympics and worlds since 2007, joining the U.S. and Kenya.

British athletes made six podiums at the just-completed worlds at the London Olympic Stadium, including in all four relays. The other two medals came from Mo Farah, who is moving to road racing and marathons after this season.

“The Meet” is similar to swimming’s “Duel in the Pool,” a biennial head-to-head competition between the U.S. and rival Australia from 2003 through 2007 and between the U.S. and Europe between 2009 and 2015.

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VIDEO: Ten memorable races from worlds