Glamour is palpable in the 100 meters, but this year, so is the drama
Posted: Thursday August 19, 2004 3:30PM; Updated: Thursday August 19, 2004 3:30PM
So here I am, trying to handicap this weekend's Olympic 100-meter races and thinking: It was a whole lot easier sitting at this keyboard in Sydney four years ago (Actually, I was sitting at a different keyboard; Michael Phelps isn't the only guy staying on the cutting edge of technology. Anyway ...) Type in Marion Jones. Type in Maurice Greene. File the story and go out for a run. Look like a genius on Monday. Not here. Not this time. And that's OK, because it's too hot to run in Athens, and much too dangerous to run anywhere near traffic.
But here goes:
Racing begins Friday morning; final Aug. 21
Is it possible for nobody to win this race? The favorites are a collection of women who thus far have demonstrated that they are either too young, too old, too emotionally weak, too worn out, too untested or -- that old favorite -- just too slow to win such a brutal competition as the Olympic 100.
Gail Devers -- No man or woman has won three Olympic gold medals in the 100 meters. Devers won in 1992 and '96 and if she were to win this one, she would immediately, and deservedly, be declared the greatest female sprinter in Olympic history. But Devers finished only a struggling fourth at the U.S. Trials in 11.11 seconds and picked up a lane here only because of Torri Edwards' drug suspension. She hasn't broken 11 seconds since 2000, and while the winning time here might be slowest since 1980 (11.06), there is no indication that Devers can still run that fast. If she does, big props.
Lauryn Williams -- The 20-year-old NCAA champion from Miami has run 10.97 and has major upside, but she's been racing nonstop since December, often the kiss of death come late summer. "I'm aware of the fact that I've had a long season,'' Williams said last week in Athens. "I'm all right. I'm confident I'll be fine for the Olympics.'' Like Devers, she's fighting a trend.
LaTasha Colander -- The Mystery Woman. LT won the U.S. Trials in 10.97, coasting across the finish line with her index finger in the air, having destroyed the field with a monster midrace move. Then she pulled out of the 200 with either a) a sore quad or b) a loss of spine. (At the time her coach, Trevor Graham, said that Colander had faked the injury). She hasn't run an open 100 since. It's not easy to be one of the favorites in the Olympics, and Colander has run precious few big-time, international 100s. This is a major step up for her.
The rest of the world:
Ivet Lalova -- This 20-year-old Bulgarian ran a 10.77 in her home country in June and that's her only time under 11.06. Red Flag: There are rumors of a false start that wasn't called. Who knows? She won her only Euro circuit race in 11.13, which scares nobody.
Christine Arron -- The Mystery Woman, French version. A tall, elegant runner, she went 10.73 six years ago and hasn't broken 10.90 since. Some would say that's because she was eternally terrified of Mrs. Jones. This summer she's gone 10.95, which would be pedestrian in any other year, but puts her on the board here. She has been the most consistent professional runner throughout the season.
Debbie Ferguson -- She ran anchor on the Bahamas' Golden Girls winning 4 x 100-meter relay in Sydney and has twice chased Arron home this summer with a season's best of 11.07 into a head wind. That makes here a threat. Her anchor in Sydney means she's run under pressure.
The Jamaicans -- Sherone Simpson (20), Veronica Campbell (22) and Aleen Bailey (23) have all run in the low 11's, albeit not against the top Europeans or the top Americans.
The Former Jamaican -- Merlene Ottey, now running for Slovenia. She has won three silver and five bronze Olympic medals. She's 44 years old and ran a remarkable 11.09 two weeks ago. Let's see her do that here.
Racing begins Saturday; final Aug. 22
Writers suggested at two different press conferences in two different locales on Thursday in Athens that there was no longer any glamour to the men's 100. I'm not sure why anybody would say that, except for the doping mess, and I'll buy that. But there's plenty of speed and drama in this race.
Greene -- Needs no introduction. Three-time world champion (1997, 1999, 2001), former (and future, if Tim Montgomery is banned) world record holder, the man who Michael Johnson said is inarguably the best 100-meter sprinter of all time. He looked finished in 2002 and '03, but has been reborn this year. Will he run another sub-9.90? Not sure. Another sub 9.80? Seems unlikely. But he's the most experienced, four-round, major championship sprinter in history and it would be very foolish to bet against him. "I feel calm, and ready,'' Greene said Thursday night.
Justin Gatlin -- Only 22 and having left Tennessee two years ago after this sophomore year, Gatlin was shaken a year ago by a hamstring injury. "I thought it might be the end of my career,'' Gatlin said in Athens. But he came back and if he hadn't leaned too soon, might have beaten Greene at the Trials. Experience on this stage is the question.
Shawn Crawford -- Gatlin's training partner, and at this point, the most scary-fast sprinter in the world. Nobody can match his top end. Nobody can match his patter, either. "I'm here to be a triple gold medalist, if you include the 4 x 100,'' he said Thursday. In Sacramento, he ran too fast in the rounds of both the 100 and 200 and said Thursday, he plans to run hard in all four races here. "That's the gladiator spirit,'' he said. He's the fastest guy, but he's got to run smarter.
The rest of the world:
Asafa Powell -- This 21-year-old Jamaican has been running seriously for only three years, but he ran a pair of 9.91s this summer and beat Greene twice, once convincingly. Like Crawford, he's seriously fast. Does he have the head to win over the rounds? "I think I'll be all right for the rounds,'' he said Thursday. He will or he won't. If he is, we'll see a coronation.
Kim Collins -- He won the world title a year ago from lane one, running a plodding 10.06. The best he's run this year is 10.14, which will not get it done.
Aziz Zakari -- The 28-year-old from Ghana ran a 10-flat to win a Grand Prix in Stockholm in late July. But he's never run a wind-legal sub-10, and that makes him no threat in this race.
Mark Lewis Francis -- As far back as the 2001 worlds in Edmonton, when the then-19-year-old ran a 9.97 with a faulty wind gauge, he looked like Great Britain's sprint heir. Like Zakari, he's never broken 10 seconds.
Francis Obikwelu -- Formerly from Nigerian, now running for Portugal, Obikwelu ran a 10.02 behind Powell's 10-flat in Lausanne, which makes him worth looking at.