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Olympic Sports
Tim Layden
March 19, 2001
Back on TrackFour U.S. sprinters are running to atone for their victory antics in Sydney
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March 19, 2001

Olympic Sports

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Back on Track
Four U.S. sprinters are running to atone for their victory antics in Sydney

Last September at the Sydney Olympics, Jon Drummond, Bernard Williams, Brian Lewis and Maurice Greene teamed up to win the 4 x 100-meter relay, reclaiming gold for the U.S. in the race that American teams had—through disharmony, inept baton passing and occasional slow running—failed to win in two of the three previous Games and two of the past three world championships The foursome will be remembered, however, at least as much for its notorious victory lap, during which the sprinters played to the crowd by climbing on stadium railings, removing their shirts and posing like bodybuilders and, most controversial, wearing U.S. flags as capes and turbans. The runners were painted as emblematic of the spoiled, insensitive young athlete so reviled by fans in all sports.

Six months later the sprinters remain unanimous in their insistence that they intended no disrespect in Sydney. "We were happy, we were excited," says Drummond. "When I saw the tape, I realized it was offensive. But we meant no harm."

Mainly the runners were expressing their relief at having overcome the politics that have led to other U.S. relay disasters. The foursome, which would have been blasted had it not brought home a gold, was put together only 48 hours before the final, after months of bickering among coaches runners and USA Track & Field officials. "Two days to get through all that drama, then take on the world," says Williams. "Two days!"

Moreover, the runners were encouraged in their antics, a fact that was missed by TV viewers. "The fans were yelling, 'More, more,' and photographers were shouting for more poses," says Drummond.

As for the flags, the runners were trying to carry three or four at once and say they were attempting to prevent desecration, not promote it. "The whole time, I'm yelling, 'Don't let the flag touch the ground!' " says Lewis. Greene says, "I know people died for that flag. I love the flag, and I love my country."

It's possible that the foursome will get another chance to celebrate, at the world championships in Edmonton in August. Greene, 26, equaled his indoor world record for 60 meters (6.39 seconds) on March 3 and is shooting to lower his 100-meter mark of 9.79 while defending his 100 and 200 titles at the worlds. Drummond 32 was talked out of retiring by 1984 Olympic champion Evelyn Ash-ford, who convinced him that he still has some tread on his tires. Williams, 23, passed up his final year of eligibility at Florida and is training with Greene and Drummond in Los Angeles. Lewis, 26, continues to train with coach Steve Riddick in Norfolk.

The sprinters can only hope that the world will finally put the Olympic controversy into perspective. They've been vilified enough. It's time to consider a pardon for the Sydney Four.

Pan Am Games Travails
A Little Help From Havana

Hamstrung by an impossibly tight budget, organizers of the 2003 Pan Am Games, scheduled for August of that year in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, have enlisted outside aid to help them modernize venues, update technology and improve medical facilities. The help is coming from an unlikely source: Cuba. The Cubans have offered the use of a drug-testing lab in Havana, and two weeks ago Cuban vice president Jose Ramon Fernandez, director of the country's Olympic committee, agreed to send 30 consultants to Santo Domingo to give locals a chance to pull off a modest but successful Games—much like the ones Havana staged in 1991 The Dominican government told organizers to keep the budget to $30 million ( Winnipeg spent $100 million to host the '99 Pan Ams.)

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