'96 gold medalist Allen Johnson speaks out

Updated: July 14, 2004, 2:44 AM ET
Associated Press

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Allen Johnson usually is a quiet champion.

His victories in the 110-meter hurdles have become almost routine, and he has evolved into one of the senior leaders of U.S. track and field.

It's almost like USADA is the Gestapo, some Nazi organization that's just out to ban as many athletes as they possibly can.
Allen Johnson

So his pointed criticism of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency seemed out of character this week at the U.S. Olympic track and field trials.

"It's almost like USADA is the Gestapo, some Nazi organization that's just out to ban as many athletes as they possibly can," Johnson said. "The doping system that the athletes are under right now, it needs to be fixed."

He feels the suspicion that has fallen on Marion Jones is not right.

"It's not fair to drag somebody through the mud because of who they've fallen in love with," Johnson said, referring to Jones' boyfriend Tim Montgomery. Jones took last year off to have the couple's son.

USADA wants Montgomery and three other track athletes banned from the sport for life. None of the four has tested positive, but USADA has accused them of doping offenses based on evidence gathered in the criminal probe of the Bay Area Laboratory Cooperative. USADA also has lowered the standard of conviction from "beyond a reasonable doubt" to a "comfortable assurance" by all those on the arbitration panel. The lower standards, however, may not be used in the four pending cases.

Jones, who already has failed to make the team in the 100 meters and competes in the long jump final Thursday night, has not been accused of wrongdoing by USADA. She remains under investigation, despite her vehement denials of ever using banned substances.

"I think USADA should be on the side of the athletes," Johnson said, "do more as far as educating the athletes what the rules are, how the rules work, how the whole process works. I was always under the impression that USADA was an ally of mine. Looking at the way things are going now, USADA is in the business of promoting themselves, and the athletes and everybody else is on the other side."

Reminded that USADA was created to be an independent body, Johnson said, "You can be independent, but at the same time you can still help the athletes out as far as educating us on how everything works."

Nobody is accusing Johnson of anything beyond running very fast for a long time.

He is a four-time world champion and the 1996 Olympic gold medalist. Eight years after he set the American record of 12.92 -- one-hundredths of a second off the world mark -- Johnson has the world leading time of 13.05. In fact, he owns five of the top seven times in the event this year.

The other two belong to Chinese sensation Liu Xiang, who turns 21 on Thursday. Johnson edged Liu in a photo finish July 2 in Rome,

"I had a bad start, but I recovered in the fifth hurdle. In Athens, everything is possible, even beating Allen Johnson," Liu said at the time.

Johnson, who also has a gold medal from the 1997 1,600-meter relay, is impressed by the young Chinese hurdler.

"I don't see too many flaws in his race technically," Johnson said. "So he's not going to make a mistake. He's almost perfect. That's why he's so difficult to beat.

"I think I'm a little bit quicker. I think I can get out of the blocks a little quicker than he can, but his finish is definitely better than mine."

Before he can worry about Liu, Johnson must finish in the top three at the trials, where his chief rivals are Larry Wade and 2000 Olympic silver medalist Terrence Trammell. Wade beat Johnson last month at the Prefontaine Classic.

Preliminaries in the 110 hurdles are Saturday, with the finals on Sunday.

Four years ago, Johnson was hampered by injuries and knocked down all 10 hurdles in the Olympic final. He has been thinking about Athens ever since, returning to win the world championships in 2001 and 2003.

But even though he will be 37 when the Beijing Games come around, Johnson has no use for those who might call this his Olympic farewell.

"This will not be my last hurrah. This will not be my last Olympics," he said. "It's probably my second-to-last, though. I'm still running extremely well. There's still not anybody in the world who can run faster than me. Why quit?"

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press