It was not such a long time ago that Maurice Greene was running out of this world. Just last year – as the world champion, world record holder, Olympic champion and the undisputed world No 1 for a fourth successive summer – he was unbeaten in every 100m race he ran, save for the freak early-season contest in Eugene, Oregon, in which Patrick Jarrett escaped with a flier and Greene virtually stood still waiting for a recall that never came.
Yesterday Greene was out of the World Cup, jumping before he was pushed out of the frame for the 100m place in the United States team.
"This means I will definitely not be competing in the World Cup now," the man from Kansas City announced, having been hit for six in the final Golden League meeting of the season in Berlin on Friday night. Greene finished sixth in 10.20sec, his sixth defeat of the season. A week earlier he had placed sixth in Brussels in 10.11sec.
If the US team selectors had been wavering, the continued deceleration of the world's fastest man would have no doubt confirmed the choice of Tim Montgomery instead for the quadrennial World Cup in Madrid on 20-21 September.
Greene still intends to contest the Grand Prix final in Paris next Saturday and then the IAAF permit meeting in Yokohama on 16 September before hanging up his racing spikes for the year. Even accounting for an unexpected return to form by the 28-year-old American, though, the race for the world No 1 spot in the 100m would now appear to be a straight battle between Montgomery and Dwain Chambers.
Montgomery won in Chambers' absence in Brussels; Chambers won in Montgomery's absence in Berlin. The pair meet in Paris and Madrid in what promises to be a thrilling double-headed climax to what has been a long and, at times, laboured season.
On Friday night Chambers overcame a sluggish start to win in 10.02sec, modest by the standards the 24-year-old Briton has set this year. It was his third big win of the season on the European circuit, following his successes in Oslo and at Crystal Palace, and his fifth successive victory against Greene, who attrib-uted his poor form to having undertaken "too much weight training" during his mid-season break in the United States.
"I'm not worried," Greene said, "because I know what the problem is. Next year you will see a totally different person. I guarantee I will win in Paris." Beyond the Grand Prix final next Saturday, Paris also happens to be the setting for the world championships next summer.
Whether the Greene machine will be back in smooth working order in the French capital remains to be seen. In the meantime, the young Londoner who has thrown a spanner in the works is in confident mood as he prepares for the first high-speed engagement across La Manche.
"I've got the winning formula now," Chambers said. "I've got that feeling of winning that made Maurice so successful. That's what I've obtained this year. I want to keep it as long as possible."
Chambers was the only British athlete who had that winning feeling on Friday night, but not the only one who left Berlin with a feeling of satisfaction. Jo Pavey's rich vein of late-season form continued with a brilliant run into fourth place in the 5,000m. The Exeter Harrier improved her personal best by nine seconds, clocking 14min 48.66sec, and now stands third in the all-time British rankings, behind Paula Radcliffe and Zola Budd.
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