Can Greene still act the G.O.A.T?

Can Greene still act like the GOAT?

THE days when Maurice Greene can bare his right bicep without reminding everyone just how time is escaping him are dawning more infrequently. On that arm is the tattoo G.O.A.T, proclaiming him the Greatest Of All Time.

A few years ago many may have balked at the arrogance but few could have argued at the assertion. But, evolution has changed the 100m world which the Kansas sprinter has dominated for almost a decade.

Since bursting onto the scene ten years ago, coming second in the US Championships, he has been crowned 100m world champion three times (in 1997, 1999, 2001), Olympic champion at both 100m and 200m in 2000 and in 1998 alone, he broke the 10-second barrier ten times. He has definitely been one of the most consistent and competitive sprinters ever.

During those halcyon days, the only thing that stopped him crossing the line first was a troublesome hamstring. But time elapses at a rate not even a full-spiked Greene can keep pace with. He turns 31 this year and there are new kids in the blocks. The oldest man in the 100m final at the Athens Olympics, he was beaten into bronze medal position behind 22-year-old countryman Justin Gatlin and 25-year-old Francis Obikwelu, of Portugal. He still added another sub-10 second run to his cv though, clocking 9.87.

Bravado and bolshiness have long been recognisable traits, refusing to tender even grudging respect to the men who dominated when injury led to his form dipping throughout 2002 and 2003.

He says he did not believe it when Tim Montgomery, one of those since charged with doping, took his world record in Paris in 2002. “On that track! Nobody had ever run under 10 seconds on it. I laughed a little bit,” he commented, angered that an alleged cheat has erased his name from the record books. He insists he is clean and trumpets a tally of at least 20 random tests - all returned from the lab labelled negative - in the seven months preceding Athens as evidence.

The side-swipe he had at 2003 world champion Kim Collins in the run-up to the Games was also far from positive. “I continue because I am looking for something, for perfection. It will be a race that people will be remembering for ever. It will be faster than 10.07.”

The indoor arena is the one stage on which he still reigns. The 60m world record remains his. Borrowing one of his many monikers, it is a phenoMOnal time of 6.39secs, set in Madrid in 1996 and equalled on home territory in 2001. But this season he knows even that is on the line.

His coach, John Smith, a man legendary in sprint circles, has acknowledged that the form of Britain’s reigning world indoor champion is a real threat. “Jason Gardener is probably one of the greatest indoor runners around, but Maurice is a fierce competitor.”

Which is why the scene could be set for an exceptional time at the Norwich Union Grand Prix in Birmingham on Friday.

“It will be a nice race and I’m really looking forward to watching it. Jason has the ability to break the world record. It will be a tough test and will require some real interesting running.”

The level of competition may just be the key ingredient when it comes to tickling world records. In a mouth-watering line-up Greene and Gardener will have the combined talents of Mark Lewis-Francis, Collins and Obikwelu breathing down their necks and propelling them on. Not to mention a knowledgeable, appreciative and excitable British crowd.

“Maurice is training hard and he is looking forward to the race,” says Smith, “but whether either can go that fast remains to be seen. Conditions and the attitude have to be right.”

And, from a man usually so grudging in defeat, it says something for the Britons that, instead of dismissing their golden achievement in Athens, he was able to tip them the nod when Lewis-Francis held off his challenge in the last leg of the 4x100m final. Credit where credit was due. They simply wanted it more, he said. Now it’s all about who wants the individual glory most and who has the talent to match the desire.

One of the most admirable aspects to Greene’s character is that even having been there and done it all, at the age of 30 he wants to do it all again.

He punishes himself with solo pre-season workouts up and down sand-dunes in California and in case his hunger ever wanes, he keeps the following verse framed and in easy view in his office. “Every morning in Africa a gazelle wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning a lion wakes up and it knows it must run faster than the slowest gazelle or it will starve to death. It doesn’t matter if you’re a lion or a gazelle, when the sun comes up, you better be running.”

“What surprises me is his consistency. Lots of people run fast once or twice, but Greene keeps doing it. People have no idea how difficult that is,” says Leroy Burrell, who retired after the 1997 season, and has apparently already been forgotten by Greene if his recent appearance on A Question of Sport is anything to go by. Asked which American had broken the 100 metres world record twice in the 1990s, Greene needed Ally McCoist’s help to come up with Burrell.

It underlines the belief that unless you’re Maurice Greene or someone who can help or hinder Maurice Greene then to Maurice Green you’re no-one. Which makes the fact that the American and his coaching staff are currently so aware of Gardener so telling.

Perhaps they are also looking into the possibility of laser treatment, swapping G.O.A.T for G.O.H.T. He was the greatest of his time, but there will be at least four men lining up against him in Birmingham determined to prove that his time has passed.