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Relay an egg?

U.S. track coach faces a tough call on 4x100

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Latest: Wednesday September 13, 2000 02:51 PM


Here's a job I don't want: Head coach of the U.S. men's Olympic track team. Don't get me wrong, I respect the guys who take on the work. Usually they are good soldiers who have served meritoriously in college programs and taken various national teams to South America and the like, and thus are rewarded by USA Track and Field with the highest coaching position it can bestow. Current coach John Chaplin is just such a guy, having worked many successful years at Washington State.

Chaplin is in Sydney now and on Wednesday he put his stamp on his administration by promising that, with regard to men's relay decisions, the Buck Stops Here. Or something like that. Apparently Chaplin forgot to read the job description, because if he had, he would have realized that Olympic coaches are like umpires. They get noticed only when they screw up. And the U.S. is in a class by itself when it comes to relay screwups.

Background: After the Olympic trials, the U.S. coaches name a group of runners who will serve as the pool from which relays will be selected. The actual relays are named much closer to the Games. In most years, the most compelling and significant relay is the men's 4x100 meters, because the U.S., with all its sprint depth, should be able to win it with Bush, Gore, Cheney and Lieberman running, but regularly manages to drop a stick or stir up a silly controversy that botches the deal.

This summer 100-meter world record holder Maurice Greene got together with fellow Yanks Jon Drummond, Curtis Johnson and Bernard Williams, practiced passes and ran fast relays in Gateshead, England, and Berlin. Greene told that he wants those four to run in the Sydney final, but Chaplin said yesterday that the final decision will be his and his alone, and he won't make it until after watching the 100-meter final on Sept. 23 (the 4x100 final is on Sept. 30, the last day of track in Sydney). "Maurice gets a say,'" Chaplin says. "Of course, in America, everybody gets a say about the relay. My mother has an opinion.'"

I think Chaplin is inviting problems. It's true that Greene's team is made up entirely of members of the John Smith- coached HSI club, and lots of other sprinters resent HSI's dominance. (Greene, Johnson and Drummond swept the 100 meters at the U.S. trials). Look, it's not the coach's job to cave in to a superstar who wants to build his own relay. But the HSI guys have actually practiced and run the sixth-fastest time in history, building a strong case.

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Word is that U.S. coaches Chaplin and relay assistant John Moon want to unload Johnson, who hasn't been running fast in open 100s since July, and replace him with Brian Lewis, who was fourth at the trials. Greene likes Johnson. He trains with him and helps support him financially (as he does for several other HSI lessers). Greene will resist the change.

It's Chaplin's call, and Chaplin's legacy as a coach. But I wouldn't want to be the guy if he tinkers with the lineup and the baton winds up on the track somewhere. My suggestion: Chaplin should swallow a little bit of pride and go with Mo. Let the superstar take the heat.

Freeman attempts a tough two-four double

Aussies are geeked that national team coaches have given 400-meter favorite Cathy Freeman the option of also running the 200 meters, which would give her the chance to match France's Marie-Jose Perec's unprecedented two-four double from Atlanta. (Perec actually did it half an hour before Michael Johnson, and while Valerie Brisco won the two-four in Los Angeles in 1984, those Games were boycotted by Eastern bloc athletes).

It's a tough double, with the 200 heats coming one day after the 400 final, which will be triply emotional for Freeman. Not only will it be the crowning moment in her career, but she represents the home nations and her own aboriginal people.

Beyond that, Australian fans should chill. Does the name Marion Jones mean anything? How about Inger Miller? Freeman is a brilliant quarter-miler and a respectable sprinter, but she can't touch the incomparable Jones or world champion Miller in the deuce. (Freeman's upset of Miller in Gateshead is a throwout; Miller wasn't pointing for the race and was leaving for home the next day). Jones's personal record is 21.76 at sea level, Miller's 21.77. Freeman has never broken 22. She will do well to get a bronze here.

Sports Illustrated senior writer Tim Layden is covering the action on the track in Sydney for the magazine. Check back daily to read his reports.

Related information
Tim Layden's Insider Archive
SI's Brian Cazeneuve: Track Medal Picks
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