Maurice Greene ran like Greece lightning in Athens two years ago. In the Olympic Stadium tomorrow night he hopes to strike again. Last seen by a global audience posing like a prize prat with his victorious US team-mates after the Olympic 4 x 100m relay final in Sydney, the fastest man on earth returns to the scene of his world record-breaking 100m run for his first race on the European circuit this summer. In 1999 he stopped the track-side clock in 9.79sec. Tomorrow night he could be quicker.
Having put himself out of reach of his nominal 100m rivals in the past four years (by completing a hat-trick of global titles in the event, two world championships plus an Oly-mpic crown), Greene wants to take the world record into untouchable territory. "It's not that I think I can break the world record," he said. "I know I can. It's in jeopardy every time I step on the track."
It's in big jeopardy, according to John Smith, the coach who has put Greene on top of the sprint world since the Kansan failed to make the US Olympic team in 1996. Smith reckons his protégé can run 9.60sec. "That's what he thinks," Greene said, when the figures were put to him. "I have a current goal of 9.76. But if everything is perfect the wind, the weather, the track and I run a perfect race, who knows? It could happen."
If Greene were to achieve even his own goal this summer, he would at least remove from the record books the asterisk listed next to his Athens run of two years ago. It was also 9.79sec that Ben Johnson happened to clock when he won the Olympic 100m final, fuelled by the anabolic steroid Stanozolol, back in 1988. There are two faster 100m times on record, but the 9.69sec Obadele Thompson ran at El Paso in 1996 and the 9.78 Carl Lewis ran in Indianapolis in 1988 were both achieved not so much with wind assistance as hurricane assistance.
Thompson took the Olympic bronze medal in Sydney last year, but Greene's dominance of the 100m was emphasised in the world ranking list for 2000. He ran the five fastest times of the year and the next quickest was Ato Boldon, Greene's Trinidadian training partner and winner of the silver medal in Sydney, with 9.95sec. Bruny Surin ran 9.84 in finishing runner-up to Greene in the world championship final in Seville in 1999, but the Canadian failed to break 10 seconds last year and, one month short of his 34th birthday, does not have time on his side.
Thompson does, though at 24 the Barbadian is no immediate threat to the 26-year-old Greene. The same could be said of the best of the Brits: Dwain Chambers, 23, who finished fourth in the Sydney final and third in Seville, and Mark Lewis-Francis, 19, the world junior 100m champion and world indoor 60m bronze- medallist. Chambers has ducked under the 10-second barrier just twice, with a best of 9.97sec, though judging by his 10.01sec performance back in Seville on Friday night he seems certain to make significant progress this summer. Lewis-Francis, for all his rich promise, has yet to beat 10.10.
Greene has broken 10 seconds 33 times, most recently at the Prefontaine Classic meeting in Eugene two weeks ago. On that occasion, he suffered a rare defeat but only because Patrick Jarrett, who won in a wind-assisted 9.89sec, got away with an illegal flying start. The Jamaican's "reaction" to the gun was minus 0.042sec.
The chances are that Greene will be out on his own again when the gun fires for the world championship final in Edmonton on 5 August. Having won the title in Athens in 1999, successfully defended it in Seville two years ago, and captured the Olympic crown in Sydney last year, the man they call the Kansas Cannonball will be shooting for a fourth successive global 100m prize. If he hits the target, he will add momentum to his quest for all-time greatness.
"I want to be known as the greatest-ever 100m sprinter," Greene said. "Jesse Owens took the event to one level. Carl Lewis took it to another. And I want to take it to the next. "
Victory in Edmonton would draw Greene level with Lewis in one respect. Lewis is the only man to have won three world championship 100m titles, though he did not cross the line first in three successive finals; he was declared the winner of the 1987 race five years after the event, when Ben Johnson admitted to using steroids. Greene, however, has to do more than win races if he is to be held in anything like the same regard as Lewis and the late, great Owens.
Following his part in the juvenile showboating of the US relay team on the final day in Sydney, he has a lot of public respect to win back. Hence his visit to Edmonton last month to promote the world championships. Not many of the locals, it seems, are rushing to buy tickets to see the world's fastest poser. As the Edmonton Journal reflected: "He and his team-mates turned a victory lap into a never-ending pose-a-thon. It was vintage ugly America."Reuse content