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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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Alysia Montano races pregnant again at USATF Outdoor Championships

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U.S. Olympic 800m runner Alysia Montaño raced four months pregnant in 110-degree heat at the USATF Outdoor Championships in Sacramento, Calif., on Thursday.

Montaño, who raced eight months pregnant at the 2014 USATF Outdoors also in Sacramento, finished last in her 800m first-round heat in 2:21.40. She was 10 seconds faster than her time three years ago.

In a Wonder Woman top, she gritted her teeth on the final straightaway and raised her arms crossing the finish line.

“[In 2014] women let me know that my journey and my story had inspired them in so many different ways,” Montaño told media in Sacramento, standing next to 2-year-old daughter Linnea. “I think there’s something about coming out to any venue, not really expecting to win, but just going along with the journey and seeing what comes out of it. And that’s the most beautiful part for me, being a track and field athlete, the platform that I have, I feel so responsible to be a representative for people who don’t have the same platform, don’t have the same voice that I do.

“I represent so many different people. I represent women. I represent black women. I represent pregnant women. … I think it’s my responsibility to make sure I’m a voice and advocate for them.”

Athletes are looking for top-three finishes to qualify for the world championships in London in August. Finals are later this weekend.

In the men’s 800m, two-time Olympian and 2013 World silver medalist Nick Symmonds was eliminated, 32nd-fastest of 33 runners in the first round.

Symmonds, in his final season, said he has one more race left — the Honolulu Marathon on Dec. 10.

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Lilly King to be less vocal on Yuliya Efimova topic this summer

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Expect to see Lilly King and Yuliya Efimova resume their breaststroke rivalry at the world championships next month.

It will look very different than in Rio, when King became a vocal opponent of doping and directed some of her words at the formerly suspended Russian Efimova.

“This summer, I’m not going to talk about everything that happened last summer,” King said, according to the Indianapolis Star. “I spoke my piece. I’ve said everything I need to say.”

Her focus needs to stay in the pool, where she must finish first or second at the USA Swimming National Championships next week to make it to worlds (broadcast schedule here).

King said in May her goal is to break world records at worlds in Budapest in July.

She may need to in order to defeat Efimova like in Rio.

Efimova has the fastest 100m breast time in the world this year, a 1:04.82 set on Sunday. The national record put her No. 3 on the all-time list (and .09 faster than King’s winning time in Rio).

King is in third place this year at 1:06.20, though she spent all winter focusing on NCAA competition in 25-yard pools.

In Rio, King said Efimova shouldn’t have been allowed to compete given her doping history.

Efimova served a 16-month ban for testing positive for the banned steroid DHEA in 2013. She again tested positive in February 2016 for meldonium, though she said she stopped taking it before it became a banned substance Jan. 1, 2016, and was absolved along with other athletes.

King memorably finger-wagged at an image of Efimova on a TV in the ready room before her 100m breast semifinal and relegated the Russian to silver the following the night.

“You’ve been caught for drug cheating, I’m just not a fan,” King memorably said in Rio, adding last November, “[Doping] was on all of our minds. We had team meetings talking about what it was going to be like. We were going to be racing dopers, and we all knew it.”

King struggled with her newfound fame after she returned home last summer, sobbing in a winter meeting with her University of Indiana coach, Ray Looze, according to the Indianapolis Star:

It was so hard to do normal activities in her hometown – go to the grocery store or eat at a restaurant – that she considered wearing a wig to disguise herself. Her likeness was on a bingo card at a fall festival, so people purposely looked for her. When in Evansville now, she said, she looks at the ground so no one will recognize her. After an initial wave of attention on IU’s campus, she can walk around without interruption.

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