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THE MAIN EVENT: Athletics: Greene has the glory as Boldon fades

Ato Boldon has talked the talk all week. Last night, in a World Championship 100 metres final fraught with dramatic possibilities he failed to walk the walk after his training partner, Maurice Greene, came through to win the gold in 9.86sec, 0.05sec ahead of the defending champion, Donovan Bailey. Tim Montgomerie, of the United States, took the bronze in 9.94sec,

Given Boldon's stupendous form in the early rounds, when he clocked an apparently effortless 9.87sec, the result was massive surprise. Boldon had predicted that Bailey's world record of 9.84sec was virtually certain to go. That it did not was the other surprise of the night, although Greene's time was enough to put him third on the all-time list. Boldon and Greene embraced each other afterwards. For Boldon, who could only manage fifth place in 10.02sec, it was a disappointment worse than that he had experienced in being forced to settle for bronze at last year's Olympics.

The semi-finals had offered a diverting demonstration of gamesmanship. Thirty metres from home, Boldon stared to left and right in exaggerated fashion before supercharging away like a cartoon character to win in 10.00sec.

Greene and Bailey sent their own messages in the second semi, eyeballing each other on the line as they crossed in 9.90 and 9.91 respectively, with Fredericks third in 9.93.

Merlene Ottey, her hair dyed gold in a hopeful effort to attract the luck which has deserted her in major 100m finals, was given a big ovation as she lined up for the women's event.

It seemed the luck had deserted her again as she ran the first 60 metres on her own, before realising the field had been called back for a false start by the girl in lane one, Sevatheda Fynes.

Slowly, slowly, the 37-year-old walked back down to her blocks. How much energy had she expended unnecessarily? Her face, impassive, gave nothing away.

Second time around, the answer came as the woman with a record number of 13 World Championship medals, including two golds over 200m, struggled to stay in touch, fading back to seventh in the final 10 metres.

There was further disappointment to come - but for the Ukrainian, Zhanna Pintussevich, who began a delighted lap of honour before collapsing to the track upon realising that she had been beaten to the gold by Marion Jones, of the United States, 10.83sec to 10.85.

It marked a triumphant return to the sport for the powerfully built 21- year-old, who left track and field in 1992 and spent three years playing basketball.

Britain's trio of individual 400 metres runners had a relatively trouble- free passage through to today's semi-finals, but the defending champion, Michael Johnson, nearly made a costly error.

The double Olympic gold medallist went through as the third of four fastest losers after finishing outside the three automatic qualifying places in a heat won by Britain's Jamie Baulch. As Johnson, who never looked particularly impressive, slowed in an exaggerated fashion over the final 30 metres, he was caught on the line by Ibrahima Wade, of Senegal.

A Greek word came to mind: hubris. For a few minutes, until the final two heats were completed, Johnson appeared in danger of being punished by the gods for overweening pride.

"I was sure I had a firm grip on my position," he said. "I just didn't see him. It surprised me that he was suddenly beside me."

It would not have been an excuse to impress his coach, Clyde Hart, had he failed. Some observers were moved to suggest that Johnson, who is competing here on a wild card, would simply have received another wild card into the final in the event of any problem.

Perhaps his mind was already wandering to the task he took up as soon as he had finished running - commentating on the rest of the night's action for NBC television.

Iwan Thomas, the man whom Johnson believes is likely to get closest to him in Tuesday's final, said he was still suffering from a niggling injury behind his knee, but he came through comfortably enough behind his heat winner, the 1991 world champion Antonio Pettigrew, in 44.98sec.

Baulch, whose winning time was 45.06, and Mark Richardson, second in his heat in 45.05, looked equally at ease. Things look good for Britain's aspirations in their most successful event.

Ashia Hansen, who led the triple jump qualifying on Saturday, goes into today's final with realistic hopes of earning Britain their first gold of the championships, assuming the back injury which has hindered her preparations holds up. Her main rivals are the Romanian, Rodica Mateescu, and Sarka Kasparkova, of the Czech Republic.

Denise Lewis, Britain's other strong female medal contender following the departure of Kelly Holmes, was finding the going tough in the heptathlon despite matching her personal best of 1.84m in the high jump and setting a new best of 14.55 in her weakest event, the shot putt.

Lewis, who nearly came to grief over the seventh barrier in her opening sprint hurdles, found her main rival, Sabine Braun, in equally determined mood. The German jumped 1.90m, her best for several years, in the high jump, and set a personal best of 15.08 in the shot. After three events, Braun led with 3,072 points, 152 ahead of the fifth-placed Lewis. The Briton moved up a place after the 200m to finish the first day on 3,888, with Braun leading on 4,009.

Steve Backley and Mick Hill reached tomorrow's javelin final with 81.40m and 82.24 respectively behind the leading qualifier, the defending champion Jan Zelezny, who threw 83.66.