A Long Gray Line
At 39, half-miler Johnny Gray is charging toward his fifth Olympic team
For last weekend's indoor national track and field championships in Atlanta, 39-year-old half-miler Johnny Gray let his beard grow into a scraggly, salt-and-pepper stubble. It was Carl Lewis's idea. "Carl told me to let my opponents see the gray hair, let the young guys think I'm an old man and then beat them," said Gray. He didn't beat them last Saturday at the Georgia Dome, finishing a close third in the 800 meters behind 26-year-old Bryan Woodward and Khadevis Robinson, 23. But Gray did close an indoor season that was promising enough to suggest that at the U.S. trials in Sacramento in July, he will be a genuine threat to become the first American man to make five Olympic track and field teams.
His presence stretches credulity. Gray has been an international competitor for 21 years and has run 14 of the 20 fastest 800-meter times in U.S. history, including the American record of 1:42.60, set in 1985. The sight of Gray loping along at the front of the pack, forcing a fast pace in an event that is a killing, long sprint has been a fixture in U.S. track and field for two decades. On the day before Saturday's final Gray sat on a bench in the stadium and measured his career by the men he has faced. "I ran against Alberto Juantorena, Mike Boit, Sebastian Coe, Joaquim Cruz, Steve Overt," he said, ticking off a Hall of Fame of middle-distance runners, all long retired. Not only has Gray made four Olympic teams, but he has also reached four Olympic 800 finals and won a bronze medal in Barcelona in 1992. "He was given an amazing gift," says Woodward. "There's really been nobody else like Johnny."
Gray's days are built around training sessions with Santa Monica Track Club coach-manager Joe Douglas (Gray split this year from his longtime coach, Merle McGee) and attending the basketball games and track meets of his two older sons, 16-year-old Johnny III and 14-year-old Jared. (Gray and his wife, Judy, also have a two-year-old son, Jaylon.) He receives a $35,000 annual stipend from MET-Rx, a nutritional-supplements company, and another $25,000 from Home Depot's Olympic Job Opportunity Program. (Gray, who receives full company benefits, works 20 hours a week on a truck that delivers construction supplies.) He hasn't had a shoe contract since 1996. "Nobody wants me," says Gray. He soldiers on not only because he can (which is remarkable enough) but also because he knows and loves little else. He has been a professional athlete for more than half his life. "I have no idea what I will do when this is over," he says. He can put off that decision until at least July.
MJ Thinks Gold, Not Greene
Michael Johnson has made it clear that he will not be goaded into a 200-meter race against Maurice Greene before the Olympic trials. Last summer 100-meter world-record holder Greene accused Johnson of ducking him and has regularly repeated that challenge—to no avail.
Johnson understands why the topic won't die. "The talk is good for the sport, and people like it," he said last weekend in Atlanta, where he was on hand to do promotional work for one of his sponsors. But racing Greene is low on Johnson's priority list for two good reasons: 1) "It's an Olympic year," says Johnson, who is aiming to repeat his Atlanta 200-400 double. "That's what I've got to worry about"; and 2) Greene, despite winning the 1999 world title in Seville, Spain, hasn't established himself as being in Johnson's class in the deuce. "Maurice has run 19.9 [in fact, Greene ran 19.86 in '97; Johnson's world record, set a year before, is 19.32]," says Johnson. "He might run faster, we don't know. But he hasn't yet. He's never even beaten Ato [Boldon] in a 200, and Ato has never beaten me." However, Greene did beat Johnson in a 200, in Eugene in '98—albeit when Johnson was not yet in shape after injuries.
Johnson will make his outdoor debut in late March with three races (two 200s and one 400) in South Africa.
Drummond Gets Serious
Looking For a Strong Finish
Over time, Jon Drummond has refined his vision of his career. "I can finally see my potential," he said before winning the U.S. indoor 60-meter title last Saturday. One wonders what might have been had he opened his eyes earlier.