On Saturday morning he realized it. "I was messed up, man," Greene said. "My nerves were all over the place. I tried to drink a glass of water, and my hand was shaking."
The nerves never died, even when he reached the final with two of his housemate-training partners, Drummond and Boldon, the 100- and 200-meter bronze medalist in 1996. In the race for the medal, Drummond, perhaps the best starter in history, and Boldon blasted ahead of Greene, but there's no sprinter who holds form like Greene. He caught both at 60 meters to win by daylight. Boldon finished second and Obadele Thompson of Barbados third. "The top sprinters are so close," says Thompson, "but day by day and moment by moment, Maurice seems to keep things together really well. It's really tough to beat somebody who does that. Ergo, we don't beat him very often."
Flush with a victory he envisioned while sitting in the seats at the 1996 Olympics, Greene rode in a small van back to Coogee. "We've got to find a Kentucky Fried Chicken," he begged his driver, before settling on a McDonald's, where the world's fastest man walked in with a gold medal around his neck and ordered a Filet-O-Fish and fries. Back at the Coogee house much later that night, six people stood around a marble kitchen counter. The coach, John Smith, was there; so was Hudson and HSI masseuse Andy Miller. "A toast," said Boldon. "First, to the baddest training group anywhere. Second, to everybody who made it through these 100-meter rounds. Third, to the new Olympic 100-meter champion, Maurice Greene." Their tiny shot glasses of whiskey clinked musically in the night, and everybody drank.
It would be two more days before the sport and the Games would be asked to exercise their restorative powers. For those given to metaphors, the Hunter storm was preceded by a literal one, as the balmy weather of Week 1 gave way to wind and rain on Sunday night. One day later, in the slipstream of the Hunter scandal, came one of the most remarkable nights in track and field history.
In the first of epic, back-to-back 400-meter races, Australia's Cathy Freeman, a world champion of Aboriginal descent who famously lit the cauldron during the opening ceremonies, won a gold medal that was beseeched by her nation. On the morning of the race, a front-page article in The Sydney Morning Herald read, "There has been no single occasion when more has been expected of an Australian sportsperson.... Rightly or wrongly, Cathy carries with her not just the nation's sporting hopes...but its political aspirations."
She won while not at her best, driving home in 49.11 seconds as the huge stadium shook from the roar of more than 112,000 people. She finished in front of three women who all ran personal bests, and then she circled the stadium with Australian and Aboriginal flags knotted together.
Moments later, Michael Johnson became the first man to repeat as Olympic champion in the 400 meters, running a modest (by his standards) 43.84. He came to Sydney accepting a secondary role—to Freeman, to Jones, even to Greene. "It's a different kind of enjoyment," he said before the race. Yet he left with a piece of history that he values deeply.
The night wore on. In a battle of two of the greatest distance runners ever, Ethiopian Haile Gebrselassie repeated as 10,000-meter champion, nipping Kenya's Paul Tergat at the wire by .09 of a second, the closest 10,000 in Olympic history. Maria Mutola, 27, whose talent was discovered more than a decade ago by Mozambique's most beloved poet, won her country's first Olympic gold medal, in the 800. British triple jumper Jonathan Edwards, haunted for five years by a Beamonesque world record at the 1995 world championships in G�teborg, Sweden, finally got an Olympic gold medal and promised to bring it home and show it to his two small sons.
At the cauldron end of the stadium, Stacy Dragila of the U.S. won the first Olympic gold medal in the women's pole vault, jumping 15'1" (1� inches less than her world record) to defeat Tatyana Grigorieva of Australia in a riveting battle. The yearlong pressure of being the Olympic favorite had driven Dragila to spend long sessions lying in the dark, visualizing success in Sydney, and she did it again on Sunday night. She saw the stadium, full and throbbing with energy, bathed in camera flashes. She saw herself sailing over the bar and hearing the roar. "I saw beautiful things," she said.
On Monday a more sinister image came to light, that of a sport trying to chase its demons into the night.