Maurice Greene: 'You can do this clean and with just God given talent'

The Balco drugs case is casting a huge shadow over sprinting, but one legend of the track just keeps on running. Simon Turnbull talks to him
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The Independent Online

The sun is doing its best to hold the rain in check, but steadily and surely the cumulonimbi are convening in the Friday-afternoon skies above Glasgow. The storm clouds are also gathering for the start of the outdoor track-and-field season.

The sun is doing its best to hold the rain in check, but steadily and surely the cumulonimbi are convening in the Friday-afternoon skies above Glasgow. The storm clouds are also gathering for the start of the outdoor track-and-field season.

Marion Jones has already brought the shadow of drugs with her on to the Euro-pean circuit, the one-time wonder woman of the track competing as a mere mortal also-ran in Hengelo last Sunday and in Milan on Wednesday, ahead of her pointed barring from the Continent's more prestigious meetings. Jones is under investigation but has yet to be charged by the United States Anti-Doping Agency because of alleged links to the Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative. Her partner, Tim Montgomery, has admitted under oath to having used human growth hormone and other banned substances supplied by the Californian laboratory. He is due to attend a Court of Arbitration for Sport hearing in San Francisco tomorrow, and faces the possibility of a life ban.

Montgomery also faces the prospect of losing the 100m world record he snatched with a 9.78sec lightning bolt from the blue in the end-of-season IAAF Grand Prix final at the Stade Charlety in Paris in September 2002. That eventuality would return the global mark to Maurice Greene, courtesy of the 9.79sec that he recorded in the Olympic Stadium in Athens back in June 1999. Not that Greene is concerning himself with the implications of the trials and tribulations being endured by his long-time United States team-mate and rival as he prepares to open his European season in the Norwich Union International at Scots-toun Stadium in Glasgow this afternoon. Not in public, at any rate.

"You know what, I don't even pay atten-tion to that," Greene insists, leaning back in his seat on the second floor of the Glaswegian Hilton. "I don't pay that no attention... If it [the world record] comes back to me, it comes back. You know, they [the US Anti-Doping Agency] are going to do whatever they feel is right. They're going to go through every procedure that they have to. That's for them. I just worry about myself."

Given what Greene lost in the Stade Charlety three years ago, sitting watching as an injured onlooker from the main stand, it is difficult to imagine that he has paid no attention to the Balco documentation leaked to the San Jose Mercury. It refers to a plan named "Project World Record", hatched by Victor Conte, the owner of Balco, and Charlie Francis, the coach who guided Ben Johnson to his own fleetingly recognised 9.79sec world record 100m clocking at the Seoul Olympics in 1988, fuelled by the anabolic steroid stanozolol. Its aim was to make Montgomery the world's fastest man, with the help of what was at the time an undetectable designer anabolic steroid, tetra-hydrogestrinone (THG).

Then again, though, Greene has suffered no qualms about lining up against Montgomery - unlike Lornah Kiplagat of Holland and Hilda Kibet of Kenya, who both withdrew from a 10km road race in the United States yesterday in protest at the presence of Asmae Leghzaoui, a Moroccan who has served a two-year ban for the use of the blood-boosting agent erythropoietin (EPO). In April, Greene beat Montgomery in a 100m race in Martinique, clocking 10.03sec, the second-fastest time in the world this year, behind the 9.84 recorded by Asafa Powell of Jamaica.

"I have no problem racing Tim," Greene maintains. "The outcome is always the same when we race. Tim has probably only beaten me three times in his whole career. I don't care if he's in the race. I have no control over what anyone else is doing. All I can control is myself. I have to focus on myself and not worry about anyone else whatsoever and any situation that they're in."

Not that Greene was able to exercise any control when he watched Montgomery break his treasured world record in Paris. "I was laughing in the stands," he says, recalling his exasperated response at the time. "No, I didn't expect it. Nobody expected it. He just had one of those amazing days. Everything was in his favour: the wind speed, his reaction time out of the blocks.

"When I broke the world record I didn't think I would have it for the rest of my life, but I know that I'm capable of running that time again. It's just given me something to shoot for."

If Greene, the man known as the Kansas Cannonball, does manage to blast himself to another world record, he knows the finger of suspicion will be pointing in his direction. It has gone with the territory at the sharp end of the sprinting world ever since Johnson's fall From Hero To Zero In 9.79 Seconds, as the Toronto Sun memorably put it. Even Carl Lewis, who was eager to paint himself as the cruel victim of Johnson's crime, has suffered a fall from grace, having been forced to admit that a positive test he gave for banned stimulants at the US Olympic trials in 1988 was secretly dismissed by the American authorities.

"When I ran 9.79sec I know there were people talking about me," Greene confides. "There's always going to be speculation and people saying things if you run something fast, but you can't worry about that. You have to believe in yourself and what you're doing and not let anything else bother you.

"The Balco case has cast a big cloud over our sport. That's why I think it's important to go out there and put on the type of performances that I always put on: to show everyone that you can do this clean and with just God given talent."

Perhaps Greene's reluctance to pronounce any critical judgement on Montgomery, or on Jones, can be explained by the fact that the drugs cloud has cast a shadow over his own training group. Last summer, three members of the stable of sprinters and sprint-hurdlers coached by John Smith in Los Angeles tested positive for banned substances: Torri Edwards, Mickey Grimes and Larry Wade.

Greene himself, however, has retained an unsullied reputation. In fact, one month short of his 31st birthday, he has justified the acronym tattooed next to the figure of a lion on his right bicep. GOAT, it says - and the man from Kansas City is without question the Greatest Of All Time in the field of 100m running. No other speed merchant in history has crossed the line first in four global 100m finals - as Greene did in the World Championships of 1997, 1999 and 2001 and in the Olympic Games of 2000. Lewis did so only in the 1983 and 1991 World Championships, although he was retrospectively promoted to first place in the results from the 1987 World Championships and the 1988 Olympics after the disqualification of Johnson.

Greene has also amassed a staggering 52 clockings inside the 10-second barrier for the 100m. Lewis achieved the feat 15 times. Ato Boldon, Greene's now-retired training partner, boasts the second-highest haul: 28. Linford Christie's tally was seven, and the Britons who face Greene in Glasgow today, Jason Gardener and Mark Lewis-Francis, have a running total of one and none respectively.

"Someone is going to come along after me and surpass the things I've done," Greene reflects, considering his place in the grand scheme of things, "but I would say I'm the greatest sprinter in my time and in the time before me."

At the Athens Olympics last August the American GOAT was not quite the greatest in that particular 100m. In taking bronze, though, in a time of 9.87sec - a mere 0.02 behind his victorious US team-mate, Justin Gatlin - Greene proved conclusively that he was still a major force. When he finished his 2002 season with seven successive defeats and then failed to reach the final at the 2003 World Championships in Paris, many deemed him to be past his sell-by date. "I think I have proved a lot of people wrong," he says. "A lot of people counted me out. They called me all sorts of things. They'll be biting their words now."

The journalist who dubbed Greene "Slow Mo" would certainly have been choking on his description if Emmanuel Hudson had ever caught up with him. Greene's heavyweight manager was looking for him in the foyer of the meeting hotel on the eve of the 2002 Grand Prix Final in Paris.

This afternoon, Greene will be looking to do a little catching up of his own in Glasgow, having not quite managed to close the gap on Lewis-Francis on the anchor leg of the 4 x 100m relay final in Athens. The young Briton will be running his first international race since receiving a public warning for a positive cannabis test.

"A lot of people are coming up positive for things like that," Greene says. "Our sport is becoming a ghetto problem, not with performing-enhancing drugs but with performance-harming drugs."

The Montgomery hearing in San Francisco tomorrow and the Balco court case in September might well suggest otherwise.

Maurice Greene - Biography

Born: 23 July 1974 in Kansas City.

Personal bests: 100m - 9.79sec (1999); 200m - 19.86 (1997), 60m - 6.39 (word record, 1998, 2001)

Career highlights: Olympic Games - gold medallist in 2000 (100m, 4 x 100m); bronze (100m) and silver (4 x 100m) in 2004. World Championships - 100m gold in 1997, 1999, 2001; also won 200m and 4 x 100m in 1999. World Indoors - 60m champion in 1999. US Championships - 100m champion in 1997, 2000, 2002; 200m champion in 1999.

Did you know: appeared on the US version of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? and won $125,000.