Athletics: Greene on target in race to escape Johnson's shadow

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Last summer Maurice Greene blasted from the shadows to the front of the world sprinting order. Now the man they call the Kansas Cannonball is threatening to shoot past the lingering shadow of Big Ben.

Greene settles into his starting blocks for the 60m in the Bupa Indoor Grand Prix meeting at the National Indoor Arena in Birmingham tomorrow evening not just as the 100 metres world champion and the 60m indoor world record holder but also as the new likely lad in the near decade-long race to eclipse the tainted high-speed deeds of Ben Johnson.

September 26 marks the 10th anniversary of the day Johnson was infamously snared in the drugs net at the Seoul Olympics, two days after he pushed the human speed limit to 26.9 mph, fuelled by the anabolic steroid, Stanozolol. The 100m world record stands at 9.84sec to one Canadian who staked a more lasting claim to the Olympic title but, next to the time it took Donovan Bailey to strike gold in Atlanta, Big Bad Ben's ill-gotten 9.79sec can still be found marked with an asterisk in the record books.

Judging from all speed checks on the Kansas Cannonball, though, time would appear to be finally running out for that adjunct of shame.

The 23-year-old improved from 10.08sec to 9.84sec last summer, in speeding from US Olympic trials also-ran to Bailey's surprise successor as 100m world champion. And the Greene Machine has continued to gather momentum this winter, equalling the world indoor record for 60m in Karlsruhe on 1 February and breaking it with a clocking of 6.39sec in Madrid two days later.

The old mark, 6.41sec, stood officially to Andre Cason but was also, significantly, another record time stripped from Johnson after what the Toronto Star called his fall "From Hero to Zero in 9.79 sec."

Greene has set 6.37sec as his 60m target before the end of the indoor season, though the chances of him beating the clock again in Birmingham could be said to be up in the air. He is jetting to Britain this afternoon, after competing in the Millrose Games in New York.

Whatever his fate in the National Indoor Arena, the new fast kid off the blocks is convinced the 100m world records, both legal and illegal, will be within his range when he races outdoors this summer.

"I want to accomplish something no one has done before," he said. "If my training continues the way it has been going I'm sure it will happen.

"My coach, John Smith, thinks I can run 9.79 this summer. I think it will be more like 9.76. The world record will come, I'm sure."

Such has been Greene's progress since uprooting from Kansas City and joining Smith's golden group - Ato Boldon, Marie-Jose Perec and company - in Los Angeles 17 months ago he could even become the absolute fastest man on record. That literal distinction belongs not to the steroid-charged Johnson but to Abedele Thompson, the Barbadian who was blown through 100m in 6.69sec with the assistance of a near gale-force wind in the thin air of El Paso two years ago.

It would take little more than a blink to miss Greene's fleeting part tomorrow night in a show which raises the curtain on a new era of major televised productions for British athletics. Even Jonathan Edwards confessed he found the last two years a turn-off, and he was playing a starring role.

The cast assembled for the Birmingham revival is so sparkling Edwards is in danger of being outshone in his own event. The world record holder is joined in the triple jump by the American who beat him to Olympic gold in Atlanta, Kenny Harrison, and the Cuban who snatched his world title in Athens, Yoelbi Quesada.

The 140-minute programme seems likely to be packed with as much high- class action as the sport has produced domestically in the past two years. That would be a supreme irony, given the fact that the meeting has been organised on a tight budget in the wake of the British Athletic Federation's financial collapse.

l Du'aine Ladejo withdrew from the Bupa Grand Prix yesterday. The European outdoor champion has pulled out with a hamstring injury.