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Bailey, Johnson on Track for Match Race

November 19, 1996

TORONTO (AP) _ Michael Johnson and Donovan Bailey will settle the argument of who is the world’s fastest human, with the winner to get $1.5 million.

Like heavyweights hyping a title bout, the two Olympic sprint champions agreed Tuesday to a May race at the unconventional distance of 150 meters.

``It’s a great opportunity for track and field,″ said Johnson, who exchanged barbs with Bailey at a news conference to confirm the long-rumored race between the world-record holders at 100 and 200 meters.

Both men will receive appearance fees of $500,000, and the winner will earn an additional $1 million. The one-on-one race will be over a curved track; Bailey has been allocated the inside lane.

Promoters said they are still negotiating for a venue and an exact date. Toronto is among five North American cities in contention, but the others were not identified.

Bailey set a world record of 9.84 seconds at the Atlanta Olympics in the 100 meters, the race that traditionally determines the world’s fastest human. But Johnson’s world-record time of 19.32 in the 200 meters prompted some to suggest he was faster than Bailey.

Bailey and Johnson professed to mutual respect at their news conference, but at times sounded more like boxers ready to duke it out in the ring.

``I told you this race would happen, and on my terms,″ said Bailey, who had resisted calls for the event to take place soon after the Olympics.

``I never set out to be the world’s fastest man _ a lot of people decided to give me that title,″ Johnson said. ``When this whole 150 thing came up, my attitude was, `Whenever we can do it, wherever we can do it. Let’s just do it.‴

Johnson also jibed at Bailey’s overall record last season.

``He was 5-7,″ Johnson said. ``That’s a losing record.″

Both runners said the event, dubbed ``The Challenge of Champions,″ would be a big publicity boost for track and field in North America.

The company promoting the race is Canadian-based Magellan Entertainment Group. Its president, Giselle Briden, said other track stars were being approached to compete in similar one-on-one competitions as part of the event.

She also said there would be entertainment comparable to a football game halftime show.

Briden said the event has been approved by the international and Canadian governing bodies for track and field, and each sprinter would be subject to drug testing. A positive drug test would mean forfeiting all prize money.

The purse is huge by track and field standards. The Weltklasse in Zurich, Switzerland, considered the most lucrative one-day track meet, has a budget of about $5 million, of which perhaps 200 athletes are paid.