City sways to the golden Boldon age

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The Independent Online
ATO BOLDON blew into town and blew out again with the force of a south Pacific storm. He did not even stay in the athletes' village, preferring the comforts of a luxury hotel in Kuala Lumpur city to the company and camaraderie of the Commonwealth. Boldon is a man in a hurry. One moment he was backing Malaysia's death penalty for drug traffickers, the next announcing plans to marry his fiancee Cassandra Mills in Beverly Hills early next month. It had to be Beverly Hills for Ato, who is sprinting's answer to Eddie Murphy.

Next stop was Tokyo yesterday, a hefty cheque and a win over Maurice Greene, his training partner in the athletics stable run by John Smith in Los Angeles. "He's the one person who's got the better of me this season and I have to live with him for the rest of the off-season," he said. "I'm concerned about Maurice Greene."

Reduced to splinters by the tornado was the Commonwealth Games record set by Linford Christie four years before and the Trinidadian's reputation for talking quicker than he ran on occasions when it really mattered. In 9.88 seconds of blistering action, Boldon thrust himself to the front of the challengers for gold in Sydney two years on. And, though he parried questions about such an uncertain vision, adding his name to the exclusive list of 100m Olympic champions would surely be the ultimate dream for such an avid student of the discipline.

At the age of 24, Boldon is wise to be cautious. A glance at the fate of the three main protagonists in Atlanta two years ago shows how unfaithful fortune can be. While Boldon broke down in tears, having once again failed to live up to his own fast-talking hyperbole, Donovan Bailey streaked to a world record and, in his last major competition, Linford Christie did not even leave the starting blocks. As Boldon once again came within touching distance of the world record on a near-perfect night at the Bukit Jalil stadium, Bailey was beginning the painfully slow process of recovery after an operation on a ruptured Achilles' tendon and Christie was watching from the safe distance of a television studio.

The Canadian suffered the freak injury while warming up for a pick-up basketball game and, at the age of 30, time is not on his side. His camp has bravely set their eyes on the Pan-Am Games in Winnipeg next summer and the world championships in Seville later in the year. "If anyone is going to recover, it's Donovan," Chris Layne, Bailey's agent, said. The more likely prospect of the champion's retirement would detract from the full maturing of Boldon's considerable talents. At least Boldon thinks so.

"I don't want him sitting in the stand at Seville or in Sydney saying 'Hey, I could've beaten him', like they did when Linford won and Carl [Lewis] wasn't there. I know how this game works. I want everyone there."

If it is not too unfortunate a phrase, Boldon is a shot in the arm for the sport, both for the journalists and for the crowds, who respond no less in Malaysia than anywhere else to Boldon's particular style of brashness. His trademark for his few days in KL was a flat-palm push upwards after each heat and the final. "Pump it up" was the clear message. And not the volume this time. For once, the response was not a danger to the smog count. "I have to operate the way I have to operate and the way I operate is to tell you what I plan to do, if I'm on, if I'm off, and then try to do it. I thank God when I'm right and I thank God when I'm wrong. I'm not shy, I'm not afraid to put my goals out there, I will never be afraid to be wrong."

Without the benefit of an expert's eye, the remarkable facet of Boldon's speed is not just that it is allied to an intelligence acute enough to place him in the top five per cent of high school graduates in the US in 1989, but that it is derived from a loping, splay-footed, spring from the blocks which resembles Groucho Marx in pursuit of a waitress. Even at full pitch, the stocky Boldon is no stylist. But the clock takes no notice of elegance. "I'm just a soccer player doing the 100 metres dash," he said without total conviction.

On his way to Tokyo, the new Commonwealth champion might have paused to reflect that he needed the Games in the end just as much as the Games needed him. "The most important thing when we came here was that we put on a show," he said. The rest, including Darren Campbell, the newly crowned European champion, have a winter to digest the uncomfortable implications of Boldon's new competitive maturity.