Maurice Greene tribute

Unlike the rest
Honesty, quirkiness defined talented sprinter Greene

Posted: Monday February 11, 2008 3:01PM; Updated: Monday February 11, 2008 6:55PM


by Brian Cazeneuve

When Maurice Greene retired from track and field recently, I, for one, was disappointed. Granted, the sprinting exploits of the man who was once the world’s fastest human had already been surpassed by the likes of Tyson Gay, Justin Gatlin (clean or unclean) and Asafa Powell, but nobody will ever be as much fun in interviews. Ever unpolished, Greene often let his honesty and quirky nature show through, even if the honesty sometimes got him in trouble.

Go back to 2003 in Paris. Greene sat at a press conference table before roughly a hundred reporters, including one woman with a hat the size of Al Oerter. It isn’t unusual on the often-daffy European circuit to find eccentric wannabee scribes, especially TV reporters, who try to make a name for themselves by being outlandish in their manner of questioning or their dress. But this hat, complete with bows, flowers and waxed berries, blocked out the sun for a good five rows behind it.

“Tell me about your dog,” the woman asked Greene. “Do you feel it is OK to eat breakfast for dinner?” “Would you ever race in my slippers?” Greene tried to keep a straight face and never complained about the inane line of requests. Since it was a pre-meet morning conference and nobody was on deadline, our group didn’t stop her either. We did manage to get in a few track questions before the moderator cut in to ask: “Any more questions?” Greene spoke up. “Yeah, I have one,” he said, staring at the lady in the front row: “Does that ever make your head fall off?”

That was Mo. So was this: When a man at the same press conference pointed out that there was a famous 17th century composer named Maurice Greene, the 20th-century sprinter told him to speak to the other athletes at the table while he composed a song. So it was rap song. At least Greene made a few phantom strums of the viola while reciting hip-hop.

His résumé is loaded with achievements. He won golds in the 100 meters and 4x100-meter relay at the 2000 Sydney Olympics and bronze and silver in those events four years later in Athens. He won the hundred at three consecutive world championships (1997, 1999, 2001) and doubled in 1999, by winning the 200. In 1999, he broke the world record in the hundred, blitzing the tape in 9.79 seconds.

Even as end-zone celebrations are becoming showier, answers from athletes and coaches are now ever more rehearsed, managed, predictable and almost interchangeable. Take the head off one grumpy jock, place it on another and you either have a second Ebenezer Belichick who doesn’t want to be there or Scotty Bowman, the master of saying absolutely nothing in as many words as possible. Greene stands out as an exception.

Granted, his playfulness got him into hot water at the 2000 Sydney Olympics when he and his relay teammates celebrated too much after winning the 4x100-meter relay. The celebrating was especially overdone when the runners were on the victory stand receiving medals from Henry Kissinger, a man who might as well have been the Olympic mascot, for all the runners cared. Yet unlike his oblivious relay mates, Greene expressed genuine remorse once he grasped that the frivolity had been excessive. “We’re sorry we offended people,” he said. “We were so happy, we basically lost our minds.” The apology passed the smell test and rang sincere.

Greene also never hid his bravado. He would swing his shoulders on his walks to start lines in the most exaggerated strut imaginable and he had a tattoo placed on his shoulder that read: GOAT, as in “Greatest Of All Time.” Greene was speaking at a meet in New York after a 100-meter race against a field that included Shawn Crawford, one of his fiercest rivals. During the interviews, Greene, an average starter, opined that if he could stay even with the field through 50 meters, he would be able to pull away in most races, because, “I have the fastest top-end speed in the world.” At that, Crawford launched into a profane rebuke that would have made Lenny Bruce blush.

Out of nowhere, Greene would sneak up on people to talk football, never missing an opportunity to tease his coach, John Smith, a former Dallas Cowboy, about how blows to the head affected his judgment. I once made the mistake of insisting that the Rams were a sure thing against the Patriots in Super Bowl XXXVI, a game they lost in the final seconds. Greene wasn’t especially good with names, and I’m sure he never figured out mine, but he spotted me in a hotel hallway months after the game to remind me of my prediction.

“Yo, still picking St. Louis?” he said.

“Mo, you’re not even competing here,” I told him.

“Ha, and I still got you.”

Before athletes started showing up on Donald Trump’s reality shows, Greene appeared on both Identity and Blind Date, stunning his companion with the news that the man who showed up late to pick her up was actually the world’s fastest human. He won a second date anyway. These days, he has a better deal. In fact, if you watch Deal or No Deal, the woman holding case No. 1 is Greene’s regular date.

Greene always seemed intent on appreciating life, ever since bursting onto the sprint scene in the mid-90s. After flunking his SATs, he drove with his father, Ernest, from his home in Kansas City to train with Smith in Los Angeles. The training went so badly at first that Greene sometimes left the track in tears. But he never lost sight of the opportunity that afforded him to train with a world-class coach. “Most guys would have quit,” Smith once said. “People look for a reason not to fight on, you know. Mo welcomed the fight. Even when he was smiling, he was fighting.”

Great writeup. I wonder if Crawford still takes offense when someone says they have the fastest top end in the world :slight_smile:

Yes, great article. Author, Brian, has been on the majors scene for many years though relatively young. He seemed to be always doing research for someone else at Sports Illustrated to get the glory by adding a few well-crafted words to his facts and anecdotes. Real bookish type, super quiet, stringently observant with a whimsical sense of humour. But hardly ever saw anything he’s written until now. Guess SI finally let him off the leash. They’ve got a winner now.

Greene used to go on like a pork chop at meets, licking his lips like some kind of deranged Hanibal in spikes. In Athens before the Games he was saying outlandish stuff. And looked up and made eye contact as everyone was leaving the show and said something softly about keeping up the performance - as in entertaining the audience, pulling the crowds, winning fans. He surely did that and more. I hope he’s doing OK.

As a sales man for the sport he was very good and sport does need those kinds of people too …


It will be tough to follow in Greene’s footsteps

By Helene Elliott

The sprinter, who has announced his retirement, was not only tops in his field but was an entertaining figure in a sport that seriously needed one.
February 11, 2008

He never ran a race he didn’t think he could win, and Maurice Greene competed against time and age as valiantly as he could.

His spirit was willing. But his muscles and tendons, taxed by years of propelling him out of the starting blocks and driving him faster than almost any human has run, would carry him no more.

So last week in Beijing, where he had hoped to win another Olympic gold medal this summer and enthrall the world, the 33-year-old sprinter announced his retirement on a quiet winter’s day.

“I’ll miss the feeling of being on the 100-meter starting line at the world championships or the Olympic Games. There’s no feeling like that in the world,” said Greene, who plans to stay in the sport as a consultant.

“It gives you such a high. I feel more comfortable there than lying on my own bed. That’s what I love.”

It’s unfortunate that Greene, three times the 100-meter world champion – including an unprecedented 1999 sprint double – the Sydney Olympic champion and former world-record holder, is leaving just when his sport needs him most.


When a generation of young runners has learned how to win but hasn’t learned how to grab casual fans or create rivalries that might revive the interest track and field once generated around the globe.

It hurt him to leave. It would have hurt even more to stay.

“The last couple of years have been really hard on me to get a steady training base because I always had something nagging, some kind of injury,” said Greene, who has lived and trained in Southern California for more than 11 years.

“It was a mental battle with myself to overcome injuries and compete. This year was going to be my last regardless, so I figured I might as well go ahead and do it now. I’ve had a great career and I’d rather leave now, before people tell me to leave.”

Greene was cocky, but in a way that was theatrical, not mean. :slight_smile: He was brash. He clearly stepped over the line at the Sydney Olympics, when he and the other three members of the triumphant 400-meter relay team preened and cavorted during the national anthem in a disrespectful, adrenaline-fueled display for which they profoundly and profusely apologized.

He also won. A lot.

Greene ran 52 sub-10-second races in the 100-meter dash that were wind-legal, nearly 20 more than his nearest pursuer, current world-record holder Asafa Powell of Jamaica.:eek:

He also set the world indoor 60-meter record of 6.39 seconds in 1998 and matched it in 2001. In 1999 he set a world record in the 100 of 9.79 seconds, and although it has been eclipsed, it stands as the American record following the annulment of Montgomery’s 9.78 and Justin Gatlin’s 9.77 (edit).

Four years after Sydney, supposedly past his prime after a broken leg and assorted muscle pulls, Greene won a bronze in the 100 at Athens in 9.87 seconds – the same time in which he won at Sydney. He also won a silver in the 400-meter relay.:cool:

Above all, he gave the sport a recognizable face and vibrant personality.

He playfully stuck out his tongue at those who trailed him to the finish line. He had GOAT, for Greatest of All Time, tattooed on one arm.

In 2004, after he won the 100 at the Home Depot Invitational in Carson in a wind-aided 9.86 seconds, his training partner Larry Wade [NOW COACH OF AUSSIE JOHN STEFFENSEN] ran onto the track with a fire extinguisher to “cool off” his blistering-hot shoes.

It was a stunt, but fans loved it – and it brought a welcome moment of humor to a sport (edit)

There are American sprinters talented enough to take Greene’s place on the world stage. (edit) Tyson Gay is the heir apparent. There’s no one to take Greene’s place as an entertainer.

[b]“The main thing with me is I was going to continue being the same person no matter what I got or what I won,” he said. "A lot of people get a certain status . . . they feel, ‘I accomplished this so I have to act this way.’ I don’t think you have to be standoffish because you’ve had a certain amount of success.

“I’m going to continue being myself. I like to laugh and have fun and have good times. I’m not trying to be something I’m not.”[/b]


“The most important thing to me is my 8-year-old daughter has to grow up and deal with all these things. It’s for my daughter. It’s for my mother,” he said.

“I believe the good Lord gave me an ability and if I worked hard I would be able to accomplish a lot. If the good Lord does not want you to do something, you’re not going to accomplish it.”

Before the conversation ended and he began the rest of his life, Greene had one request.

“I want to thank my fans. They’ve been very good to me,” he said. “I hope you all enjoyed the show I put on. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed putting it on.”

Consider it said. And done.

Helene Elliott can be reached at To read previous columns by Elliott, go to

Thanks KK, but I’m wondering about this statement saying Greene was an average starter. How early in his career would that have been?