Athletics: Greene sprints to world record

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The Independent Online
MAURICE GREENE yesterday reduced the world 100 metres record to 9.79sec with a superb exhibition of running at a meeting in Athens.

He thus matched exactly the time set by Ben Johnson in winning the 1988 Olympic title before it was so infamously annulled following the Canadian's subsequent positive drug test.

Before the 24-year-old from Kansas City took to the track at the Tsikliteria meeting on a windless evening ideally suited to fast times, the world record stood at 9.84, recorded by Donovan Bailey of Canada in winning the 1996 Olympic title.

Greene, who won the world 100m title in the same city in 1997 and twice lowered the world 60m record last season, was pushed to his achievement by the highest quality of opposition. Following him home was his training partner Ato Boldon, who recorded 9.86, Bruny Surin of Canada, who was timed at 9.97, and Frankie Fredericks of Namibia who recorded 10.02.

Greene's time was initially shown as 9.78, but was rounded up after officials had studied the photo finish. "I expected it," said Greene, who hugged fellow competitors and acknowledged a standing ovation after his run. "This is only the beginning." His next target, he said, was 9.76sec.

"This is a special place for me," said Greene, who won the 1997 World Championships 100m on the same track. He said he wanted to tell his mother the news straight away by phone, but she was not at home. She would have been surprised as Green had gone to Athens with the intention of running only the 200 metres, but he changed his mind after seeing the strong 100m field.

"I said: 'They can't have a party without me'," he told reporters after the race. "I knew something was going to happen with this race. I wanted to be part of it."

Boldon, who trains with Greene in California under the guidance of the former US 400m runner John Smith, said: "I think it's very significant we came to the birthplace of track and field to break this record."

Since the introduction of electronic timing in the 1960s, no runner has managed to slice such a margin off the record. Other than Johnson, that is, who learnt yesterday that the International Amateur Athletics Federation had refused to let him run in the forthcoming Canadian championships following his legal appeal to be allowed back into the sport after two positive drug tests.

Only two men have covered the distance faster than Greene. In 1996, Obadele Thompson of Barbados recorded 9.69 in the high altitude of El Paso, with an illegally high wind assistance of five metres per second. Carl Lewis, who inherited the 1988 Olympic title following Johnson's ban, covered the distance in 9.78 at Indianapolis in 1988, this time with a 5.2 metres per second following wind.

After Greene had made his international debut in 1995, it soon became evident that he was a performer of even greater potential than his elder brother Ernest, a national junior college 200m champion who recorded 20.60 sec in 1992. A rarity among American athletes, he never ran at college level, but he made spectacular progress in 1995, placing second, just two- thousandths of a second behind Mike Marsh, the 1992 Olympic 200m champion, in the US championships 100m.

The following year Greene made the most important move of his career when he took the decision to go and train with Smith and his group in Los Angeles. In his world championship year of 1997 Greene became the only man to have five legal times of 9.90 or quicker. His winning time in the final of 9.86 indicated his potential.

Since Johnson's downfall - from hero to zero in 9.79sec - the memory of the Canadian's performance, so astonishing at the time, has remained in the minds of all connected with the event. With Johnson's 1987 record of 9.83, set in winning the 1987 World Championships and also expunged because of his own admission of drug-taking, the event had to step back in time.

Now Greene has taken it back to the edge, and with the World Championships coming up in Seville in two months' time, there seems little doubt he can push it still further. Yesterday's race provided an immediate context for the ambitions of Britain's Dwain Chambers, who ran 9.99sec on Sunday.

Chambers expressed the belief that becoming only the second European after Linford Christie to break 10 seconds had put him into a position where he could soon start, in his own words, "dancing with the gorillas" - by whom he meant the likes of Greene, Boldon and Fredericks. Last night's specially convened 100 metres race underlined the fact that Chambers and his domestic rivals, Darren Campbell and Jason Gardener, still have a way to go, as Greene might say.

More athletics, page 24



9.95sec (14 Oct 1968 at Mexico City) Jim Hines (US)

9.93 (3 July 1983 at Colorado Springs) Calvin Smith (US) 9.92 (24 Sept 1988 at Seoul) Carl Lewis (US)

9.90 (14 June 1991 at New York) Leroy Burrell (US)

9.86 (25 Aug 1991 at Tokyo) Carl Lewis (US)

9.85 (6 July 1994 at Lausanne) Leroy Burrell (US)

9.84 (27 July 1996 at Atlanta) Donovan Bailey (Can)

9.79 (16 June 1999 at Athens) Maurice Greene (US)


Born: 21 July 1974, Kansas City.

1995: Makes sudden impact with wind-assisted time of 9.88sec. Until then best time 10.20.

1997: Wins US title with 9.90 in June. Wins World Championship 100m in Athens in August in 9.86.

1998: Breaks 60m indoor record in Madrid in February with 6.39. Clocks 9.84 (Donovan Bailey's 1996 record) in New Orleans in June but is wind-assisted.

1999: Runs another wind-assisted 9.84 in Oregon in May. Breaks world record with 9.79 on 16 June.