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Let the Race Begin for the 'World's Fastest Man'

SHOWDOWN IN TORONTO

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Forget about Canada's federal election. The "big race" Canadians are waiting for is the grudge match between two world-class sprinters: Canada's Donovan Bailey and America's Michael Johnson.

This one-on-one, hyped-up, 150-meter sprint is scheduled for Sunday in Toronto's SkyDome with the winner getting $1.5 million - or about $30,000 per step. The "loser" gets a paltry $500,000.

An assortment of other track stars from around the world will also compete in their own head-to-head matches, window dressing for the main event. All are paid performers in an odd hybrid of track and field and P.T. Barnum. (At press time, an ailing Bailey knee threatened his running status for Sunday's race.)

Apparently this event is the culmination of a small verbal feud between Johnson and Bailey that was first seized on by news outlets and then nurtured by promoters - ever since Canadian honor was offended after the Olympic Games last year.

As all Canadians know, but few Americans seem to remember, it was Bailey who won the gold medal in the 100-meter sprint at the summer Olympics in Atlanta last year. He was also on the Canadian 4x100-meter relay team that won the gold.

Canadians savored that sweet summer victory over the Americans, putting behind them at long last the ignominious Ben Johnson sprinter-on-steroids affair. But the triumph was short, and trouble flared after the Olympics.

Michael Johnson's United States promoters began to advertise him as the "world's fastest man" shortly after the Games. Johnson had, of course, won gold medals in both the 200-meter and 400-meter sprints. But, as Bailey pointed out to Canadian reporters, it was not the all-important 100-meter sprint.

A long line of Americans won the 100-meter gold before Bailey and all were graced with the unofficial title of "world's fastest man." Naturally, that honor should go to the man who wins the 100-meter sprint, he said.

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