Athletics: Greene alive to Boldon surge

Mike Rowbottom on the brilliant Athens display that has taken the 100 metres to new horizons
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The Independent Online
MAURICE GREENE, who reduced the world 100 metres record to 9.79sec on Wednesday evening in Athens, yesterday forecast further improvements before the season is over. And he did not restrict the record-breaking to himself.

The 24-year-old American, known as the Kansas Cannonball, said he expected that his friend and training partner Ato Boldon would soon get into the act himself.

"I believe we are just going to go back and forth with the record this year," Greene said in the wake of the emotional scenes which had followed his monumental performance. As the realisation sank in of what he had achieved - reducing the mark from the 9.84sec Donovan Bailey recorded in winning the 1996 Olympic title, and equalling the time which Ben Johnson recorded in winning the 1988 Olympic title before it was annulled because of doping abuse - he sobbed on the shoulder of his coach, John Smith.

Boldon, who went on to beat Greene over 200m later in the evening, predicted after the 100m that he would be the next man to break the record, and Greene readily agreed that was possible. "Now that one person can say they have broken the 80 barrier I believe it will be broken a couple of times," Greene said. "I mean, just because you run a certain time it doesn't mean that has to be the end of what you can do. I believe I am very capable of running faster. I just have to train and run the best race I can. My goal right now is 9.76, so I have to train and try to figure out a way to run 76."

Greene is a softly spoken, God-fearing man, whose frequent references to the Lord after winning the 1997 world 100m title caused him to be slyly mocked by the silver medallist, Bailey. He would also be in order to offer thanks after this latest achievement to the coach who has transformed his running. After Greene's failure to make the US Olympic team in 1996, his parents, Ernest and Jackie, drove him over from Kansas to Los Angeles to join up with Smith's prestigious and highly talented group.

Since then Greene has become the group's leading light, eclipsing - if not silencing - the ebullient Trinidadian Boldon.

He knows that his achievement in taking the largest slice off the 100m record since electronic times were introduced in the 1960's is likely to be regarded with cynicism by some.

Johnson, who is seeking to return to the sport despite two doping offences after a Canadian court ruled that there had been irregularities in the handling of his last appeal, said after his run in Seoul: "No man will ever run as fast as I did without doing what I did."

Greene's reaction on being reminded of these words was phlegmatic. "I know what Ben Johnson said, but then he would," Greene commented. "But I know how hard I work and I can say, on my mother's life, I have never, ever taken anything illegal, nor would I. Let people say what they want, but I know the truth.

"I was born with a gift the Lord gave me, but you have to work at your talent. The people who think we don't work hard should come and watch us for a week."

The latest predictions by Boldon and Greene throw the emerging ambitions of Britain's new generation of sprinters into context. Dwain Chambers, the 21-year-old Londoner who on Sunday became only the second European to break the 10- second barrier after Linford Christie, has another three metres to make up if he is to challenge the world leaders.

Greene's historic achievement overshadowed other performances at the Tsikliteria meeting on a windless evening ideally suited to fast times.

Britain's world indoor 60m silver medallist, Jason Gardener, ran 10.08sec in the B race to become the fourth-ranked Briton behind Christie, Chambers and the European champion, Darren Campbell.

Ashia Hansen, competing for only the second time following a foot operation, produced a respectable if unspectacular triple jump of 14.10m to take fourth place and provide reasonable expectations for the European Cup event starting in Paris tomorrow.