Chambers loaded for 'Kansas cannonball'

Britain's fastest sprinter of the moment faces a man who has dominated the 100m since 1997
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The Independent Online

Watching the world's fastest man, Maurice Greene, prepare to run over 100 metres is one of the more entertaining sights on the athletics circuit. Assuming, that is, you are not about to race him.

To those alongside him on the track, the swaggering style of the man they call the "Kansas Cannonball" is enough to undermine any fragile belief they may have nurtured of winning.

Britain's fastest man of the moment, Dwain Chambers, knows all about the perils involved in taking on the sprinter who has dominated the event since winning the 1997 world title. Now the 23-year-old Londoner believes he is more ready than ever before to challenge the balance of power this weekend.

"It's a mental battle with Maurice," Chambers said. "If you let him get to you then he's already won the race. And I've seen him do that to me as well as other athletes in the past. It's difficult to describe because his whole aura can have an effect on a person's mental focus. If you get caught up in his mind games then you're crushed.

"I've been up against him time and time again and it's worn thin. I'm just not conscious of him any more. I know he's going to be there. I know he's going to strut his stuff up and down, and he's going to stick his tongue out. I know exactly what he's going to do, I can read him like a book now."

But if Chambers is to prevent this weekend's outcome from being the same old story, he knows he must not only resist the American's psychological warfare, but strike the first blow himself. He has to start fastest to give himself a chance against a man whose world record of 9.79 seconds is almost two-tenths of a second faster than his own best.

"With most athletes, you stick on them for 70, 80 metres, they'll crack," Chambers said. "Maurice don't crack. So you've just got to get out in front of him and hold on. If you don't get out of the blocks the race is over."

What strengthens Chambers' belief in his capacity to carry out his strategy is his level of performance this season since recovering from a motorbike accident in April which left him with a dislocated shoulder, finger and thumb and facial lacerations.

"I've been very, very consistent this year," he said. "I've run 10 flat, which I've never done before, and I've run 10.01 twice. I've shown to the world and myself that I can actually go out and be a force to be reckoned with."

The Olympic silver medallist, Ato Boldon, whose compulsive study of sprinting statistics has made him one of the most knowledgeable of forecasters, places Chambers in his list of four main contenders for the 100 metres gold medal. The list comprises the Briton, Boldon himself, Greene, and Tim Montgomery, who won the US Championship in Greene's absence and has since set a time of 9.84, the second-fastest ever run.

"If I put you in the top four, you're a threat," Boldon said. "Because that's the way this business is. One step here, one step there – absolutely."

As a training partner of Greene's, the ebullient Trinidadian is ideally placed to evaluate the two factors which have offered rival sprinters new hope that the world and Olympic champion can be toppled.

"Before the season I thought he wouldn't run at all because he was simply lacking motivation," Boldon said. "What does Maurice really have to prove here? I guess you do have to admire him for putting it on the line because if he's in the race I think that gives you a little bit more credibility. So I'd like to thank Maurice for lining up and giving us a chance to beat him."

With reference to the tendinitis in Greene's left knee which has caused him to run for the last month with a protective strapping, Boldon was similarly expansive.

"I've had people say 'Maurice is trying to psych you guys out'," Boldon added. "I know for a fact that Maurice's knee has not been 100 per cent. It hasn't been well for a while – it bothers him slowing down and pushing off. I had a similar knee issue in Athens, but it's more uncomfortable than painful I would say."

Can Chambers seize his moment to become the first British world 100m champion since Linford Christie eight years ago? Only part of the answer to that question is about his opponents, Greene included. The other part concerns his own resolution. When Christie ran, his concentration was unfathomably deep, his belief in his superiority indomitably strong. Chambers is a softer, more affable character, ready – as Christie never was – to admit to weakness and doubt.

But he has also shown a capacity to respond to big moments with big performances which augurs well for his ambitions. After the bitter experience of losing the 1998 European title to his friend and rival Darren Campbell, he responded the following year by taking the world bronze behind Greene in Seville in a personal best of 9.97. Given the circumstances, his performance in finishing fourth at last year's Olympics despite a hamstring injury was of even greater merit.

"I've shown in various championships that I'm a championship performer, and I always bring it out on the day," Chambers said. "That's what separates the men from the boys. I've got all the ammunition I could possibly need now. I've just got to keep my cool and go out and run my own race.

"Every dog has their day, and obviously Maurice has been on top for about four or five years. But he's shown that he can be beaten. I've thought that this year more than in previous years, where he's been such a formidable force.

"If Maurice is on the line then obviously he's ready to run, so I'm not going to let that affect my concentration. But I feel I'm in a better position now than I have been in for the past three or four years.

"Any athlete has to go to the line believing they can win. You don't want to go to the line thinking: 'Well, we'll see how it goes'. I don't have that attitude. I'm thinking: 'I'm here to roll and I am going to beat you'."

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