Boldon the showman has history on his mind

Trinidadian champion takes on Britain's best sprinters as world's top athletes converge on a sold-out Crystal Palace today
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The Independent Online

The traumatic failure of both Maurice Greene and Michael Johnson to qualify for next month's Olympic 200 metres competition has left a gap which Greene's training partner, Ato Boldon, is swift to acknowledge. "Yeah. Real pity," he said yesterday, dead-panning at an assembled throng of press which promptly dissolved into a fit of nervous giggles.

The traumatic failure of both Maurice Greene and Michael Johnson to qualify for next month's Olympic 200 metres competition has left a gap which Greene's training partner, Ato Boldon, is swift to acknowledge. "Yeah. Real pity," he said yesterday, dead-panning at an assembled throng of press which promptly dissolved into a fit of nervous giggles.

The face of the man who stands most to benefit in Sydney from the absence of this illustrious pair registered satisfaction. Second question in and he was already on a roll.

Boldon is a compulsive. Compulsive about the statistics of a sport in which he has already made his mark by winning Olympic bronze medals at 100m and 200m in 1996 and adding a 200m world title a year later. Compulsive to behold as well, with a mind that works at least as fast as his legs and a challenging persona that puts one in mind at times of Bart Simpson, or perhaps even Eminem.

While the humour of his training partner can appear heavy footed or scripted - "if Michael Johnson's Superman, then I'm Kryptonite," - this 26-year-old former engineering student from Trinidad and Tobago has the fluent wit of a natural showman.

Despite the efforts of those organising today's Norwich Union British Grand Prix, where Boldon will compete against a 100m field including Britain's in-form Darren Campbell, as well as the out-of-form Dwain Chambers, he would not be drawn on the question of whether he would break the all-comers' record of 9.97 seconds. Not that such a time is remotely a problem for a man who has run frequently under 9.90sec, with a best time of 9.86 first recorded in 1998, the year he went to Kuala Lumpur in September and won the Commonwealth title. "If I run 9.96sec tomorrow, then great," he said. "But the main thing is to stay fit and healthy for the Olympics. Nothing matters until 23 September."

When the obvious question was asked yesterday, namely whether he would feel a 200m victory in Sydney would be devalued by the absence of both the world champion and world record holder at the distance, Boldon looked momentarily downwards with a wry grin. "That is not how I think of it at all," he said. "My concern is history and nothing else."

He referred instantly to the example of his compatriot Haseley Crawford, who took the Olympic 200m title in 1976. "For the last 24 years he's had to hear that Valery Borzov and Don Quarrie hadn't seen him in time because he was in lane one. But the last time I checked he had a stadium and a nice house because he won the gold medal. History won't be bothered about what happened at the US trials in Sacramento two weeks ago. History will record what I want it to record. Everything else is details."

Boldon was present in Sacramento as a TV interviewer and analyst, and described watching his friends go through the mill of a process which only awards places to the first three in each event as "an emotional rollercoaster". But even before Johnson and Greene had pulled up lame in the course of the 200m final, Boldon had already taken exception to the way in which the event as a whole was being portrayed in the media.

"Michael and Maurice were being portrayed as two gladiators. But there was a school of thought that said: 'Wait a moment! Hell-o!' I felt my own form before the US trials had signalled my re-arrival at the top level and I think I was a little insulted. Going to my car after the final everyone was coming up to me and saying: 'You can win now because Maurice and Michael won't be there'."

Boldon does not acknowledge that the event has diminished in value, although he describes the 100m - where Greene will seek to add the Olympic title to the world one he already holds - as being more important to him. Characteristically, Boldon justifies this by setting it in historical context. "Just take a look back to 1992, when the 100m was won by Linford Christie and the 200m by Mike Marsh. With all due respect to Mike, look who had the lasting legacy."

Boldon, however, shies away from saying that he will win an Olympic title - wise, perhaps, given his fitful competitive record. This, after all, was the man who ran 9.87sec easing down in the 100m quarter-finals at the 1997 world championships but failed even to win a medal when it came to the final.

Boldon is acutely aware of his national importance alongside his two friends and compatriots who are also at the peak of their own sports, Brian Lara and Dwight Yorke. "When I lose we have kids coming home in tears," he said. "When I win, it's celebration time."

His achievements thus far have been marked back home by his having an airliner named after him. Asked if there was anything his country could do to top that should he win in Sydney, he replied with a wide grin: "They can always do something else. I'd like three or four stadiums in my name to be built with great facilities." He added, with another twinkle: "and I'd like Tobago. Not necessarily in that order." A fresh ripple of mirth sounded in his ears. That roll. He was still on it.

* Javier Sotomayor has denied an allegation that he has tested positive for cocaine at least one more time since being banned last year. "Of course it is false, it is totally false," Cuba's world champion high jumper said after learning of the comments made by the IAAF vice-president, Arne Ljungqvist, two days after Sotomayor had his two-year suspension halved, allowing him to compete at the Sydney Olympics.

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