Work in Sports
Mo and O
Greene, Thompson likely to square off for gold
SYDNEY, Australia -- Some very cool symmetry is at work in the unfolding men's 100 meters at the Olympic stadium. Maurice Greene won two rounds and advanced comfortably to Saturday night's semifinals, while 1996 Olympic champion Donovan Bailey was bounced out after a dead-last finish in the second round.
It was Bailey who initiated Greene into the big time at the 1997 world championships in Athens, testing Mo's nerves and wheels through each round. Greene survived the hazing, won the first of his two world titles and started a three-year run as the world's fastest man. Bailey, meanwhile, blew out his Achilles and came to Sydney sick. He was dead meat. "Four years ago I came in as the king," Bailey said Friday night in Sydney. "I came here this time because I wanted to go out fighting."
Hey, hats off, but Donovan's fade to black was a done deal long before Sydney, and it looked like Greene might be in the same boat as Marion Jones, which is to say without a nasty foil to validate his work. (Think about it: Most of Greene's toughest opponents train with him -- Ato Boldon, Jon Drummond, Curtis Johnson; and Bruny Surin just doesn't have Bailey's résumé or his tongue).
Thompson ran for UTEP and is mostly known for ripping off spectacular performances when nobody is watching. In 1996, he ran the fastest official 100 meters in history, a 9.69 in El Paso with a hurricane at his back. A week before the Games, U.S. relay sprinter Brian Lewis picked Thompson to win the Olympic 100 meters. Then again, Lewis despises Greene.
Friday night in Sydney, Greene ran 10.10 seconds into a 1.7 meters-per-second wind. Made it look easy, but not too easy. "Eighty-five percent," he said. Fifteen minutes later, Thompson ran 10.04 with a slight wind at his back, shutting down way early. On balance, Thompson's race was very slightly more impressive. And afterward, he was talking the talk. "No Maurice Greene questions," said O. "They talk for themselves. I came for gold."
Meanwhile, Mo said he couldn't recall losing a race to Thompson, anytime, anywhere. Smart money says Saturday night won't be the first, but it's nice to see somebody willing to take on the big dog. Saturday night could be the O and Mo Show. Donovan would be proud.
Friday night's shot put competition gets nailed with a nasty title: First since 1984 in which nobody threw 70 feet. ( Arsi Harju, a 26-year-old Finn with a pink bandanna and a jones for rebuilding Harleys, won with a throw of 69 feet, 10 1/4 inches). On the one hand, it's a fair dig. Silver medalist (happy silver medalist, I should add) Adam Nelson threw 72 feet 7 inches at the U.S. Trials and has been consistently over 70 feet.
On the other hand, drug-free throwers won't throw consistently as far as the ones who put the world records out of reach in the late '80s and early '90s. John Godina, who finished a nightmare season with a bronze medal, pointed out afterward: "Nobody out there tonight has a positive drug test. Five of the six medalists from Barcelona [all three] and Atlanta [two of three, excluding Godina himself], had positive drug tests. This is a new generation. That's something to smile about."
Nelson said, "I'm proud of three things: I'm here, I'm clean and I won a silver medal."
OK. Fair points. Track desperately needs to somehow get clean, and shot putters have one of the worst reps. But the media constantly trumpet world records and near world records, and the records in the weight events are out of reach for anybody who isn't drugged to the gills. What a crappy deal. I can see the new slogan: "We're short and slow, but we're clean." Drug-free is the way to go, but it's going to take time to educate the public. Godina suggested not listing dirty world records. He pointed out that Randy Barnes' shot record of 75 feet 10 1/4 inches "was set by a guy who's banned for life."
I'm with Godina. Any record set by an athlete who subsequently tests positive -- or whose country is discerned to have used systematic doping -- should be wiped off the books.
Last thing: Marion Jones ran 10.83 Friday night in the second round of the women's 100 and looked like she was breathing through her nose. She's unreal.
Sports Illustrated senior writer Tim Layden is in Sydney covering the track and field competition for the magazine and CNNSI.com. Check back daily to read Layden's behind-the-scenes reports from Down Under.