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Greene makes fast work of gold in the 100

The American lives up to his swagger with a dominating victory.

By JOHN ROMANO

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 24, 2000


SYDNEY, Australia -- It is a job like any other, and Maurice Greene has held a few. He has flipped burgers, ripped movie stubs, even spent time working as a dog-walker at a greyhound race track.

A few years back, Greene decided to apply for a position as a track legend. You know, fame, money, adulation. That sort of thing.

He did the usual apprenticeship with years of training on the UCLA track under famed sprint coach John Smith. He won a couple of world championships in Spain, set a world record in Greece. He talked the talk of a legend and wore the grin of an accomplished man.

So when he won the Olympic gold medal in the 100-meter sprint with a time of 9.87 seconds on a cool Saturday in Australia, Greene was curious.

Could he, you know, have the job?

He can provide references. Carl Lewis, Donovan Bailey, Dennis Mitchell. They can vouch for him. (Please do not contact Michael Johnson without Greene's prior approval.) Ato Boldon, a two-time Olympic medalist at 100 meters and a training partner of Greene's, is another. "With the kind of race Maurice ran tonight," said Boldon, who won the silver while running for Trinidad & Tobago, "we got destroyed."

Unofficially, Greene is the world's fastest man. It is a title generally bestowed on the winner of the 100, and Greene has won the race at the 1997 and '99 world championships and the 2000 Olympics.

That is a far cry from the young man who left his native Kansas City in 1996 after failing to make the Olympic team. At the time, he wondered if his track career could possibly be as profitable as the job he once held as a stock clerk unloading trucks on the docks.

He packed his bags and drove to Los Angeles with his father. A high school legend in Kansas City, his progress in track seemed to stall in the mid 1990s. He decided that Smith, a former world-class runner at 400 meters and a partner with the reknowned HSI club in Los Angeles, could find the key to Greene's potential.

Smith destroyed Greene's confidence in their first workouts before building him back up. Less than a year into their collaboration, Greene was the world champion at 100 meters.

"I put a lot pressure on myself for this reason: My coach never got a gold medal in the Olympics he was in," Greene said. "I know I can't fill that hole that he has, but hopefully I can give a little back to him because there is nothing like a gold medal in the Olympics."

And, some would have you believe, there is nothing like a gold medal winner in the sport's premier sprint.

Greene, 26, certainly fits the bill of a larger-than-life track star. There are the humble beginnings, trying to find himself in Kansas City. The Svengali influence of Smith. The sudden rise to fame, complete with the Mercedes Benz and the personalized license plate MO GOLD. The high profile squabbles with Johnson, the world's premier 400 runner.

Mostly, there is the Greene look. The swagger that only supreme confidence can bring. Watch Greene before a race. The shoulders swaying to and fro. The strut that passes for a walk. The grin that dares others to try to keep up with him. He had it all Saturday, even if it took some work to pull off that movie star routine.

"This week was very tough for me. It might have looked like I was loose, but I was very nervous every day," Greene said. "It was hard for me to sleep, hard for me to eat. I was trying to play everything up and not show I was as nervous as I really was. I came in here with a lot of pressure on myself."

It did not show during the race. He got out of the blocks quickly, though a little behind HSI teammate Jon Drummond and Boldon. Greene went past Drummond at about 30 meters and pulled away from Boldon halfway through. HSI was hoping for a clean sweep but got only the gold and silver. Drummond finished fifth. Curtis Johnson, another HSI runner and a Palmetto native, failed to get out of the semifinals Saturday.

When it was done, Greene did the usual posing. He tossed his shoes into the bleachers, draped himself in an American flag and did a victory lap. Only when he reached the medal stand did Greene's emotions begin to come out.

Four years ago, before he left Kansas City, Greene failed to make the Olympic squad. So he sat in the stands in Atlanta in 1996 and cried as he watched others live his dream. On the medal stand Saturday, those tears tried to remind him from where he had come.

"I was trying not to cry. I was overwhelmed with the excitement of everything," Greene said. "When I get nervous, my tongue comes out of my mouth, I start biting my lips. Ato was in back of me saying, "Don't cry. Not yet. Not yet.' I was just very nervous.

"It felt great being up on that stand, getting my medal and hearing the United States national anthem."

Yeah, it ain't bad work if you can get it.

Fast facts: men's track and field

Maurice Greene backed up his boasting with a victory in the 100 meters Saturday and got the U.S. team off to a hot start. The highlights:

MAURICE GREENE: The brash American won in 9.87 seconds, defeating training partner and Sydney housemate Ato Boldon of Trinidad & Tobago, who finished in 9.99. Greene wrapped his head with his hands after crossing the finish line, then pulled off his red, white and blue shoes and held them high. He threw them into the crowd and draped himself in a U.S. flag. "You work four years for something that's only going to last nine seconds," he said.

MICHAEL JOHNSON: The American easily won his 400 heat in 45.31 seconds, advancing to today's semifinals. For the second straight round, teammate Alvin Harrison had the best time; he won his heat in 44.25. Also advancing was American Antonio Pettigrew.

JAVELIN: Jan Zelezny of the Czech Republic won his third straight title and broke his Olympic record with a throw of 295 feet, 91/2 inches. "I don't feel like a hero," he said. "I feel like normal but with three Olympic gold medals. More important is that when I get home, my child likes me whether I win or not."

PAINFUL WIN: American Allen Johnson, the defending gold medalists in the 110-meter hurdles, ran through a hamstring injury in his left leg to win his first heat.

800 METERS: All three American men -- Mark Everett, Bryan Woodward and Richard Kenah -- flopped in the first round.

-- Compiled from Times wires.

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