Maurice Greene

Section: Track And Field

Once going nowhere fast, sprinter Maurice Greene has found his stride, smashed the 100-meter world record and set his sights on Olympic stardom

On Mondays, Maurice Greene makes a speech. He stands among his training brethren on the pebbled red rubber of the UCLA running track and, before opening his mouth, momentarily considers the alternatives to running fast for a living. He thinks about the dead-end jobs he has held: slopping fast food at more franchises than he can recall, emptying trucks at a warehouse loading dock, hot-walking smelly greyhounds at a dog track, tearing tickets at a movie theater. The list goes on. He remembers that in the spring of 1997, nine months after moving from his native Kansas City, Kans., to Los Angeles to seek sprint greatness at age 22, he grimly opened the classified section of the Los Angeles Times in search of another lousy job because he was ready to call his track career a failure. The memories pass in a blur. His perspective firmly in place, Greene then spreads his arms in the manner of an evangelical preacher and delivers a short, heartfelt homily in free verse:

Thank God it’s Monday
It’s a beautiful day out here
We’re not behind no desk
We’re not fightin’ no traffic
We’re out here workin’
With the ability God gave us
So let’s have a great practice.

Greene is neither poet nor rapper. But know this: His words flow straight from the soul of the world’s fastest man. Desk? Traffic? Been there and worse. “I’ve had bad jobs,” says Greene. “Now I have a good one. I’m thankful.” Now it’s evening, after the sermon and the spirited workout that followed. Greene is hunched over the dining room table in his five-bedroom home in Granada Hills, north of Los Angeles. One of Greene’s houseguests is watching a movie on the 120-inch projection television, replete with plaster-peeling DVD system. Greene loves to watch loud movies, like Top Gun and Scarface. Fast ones, too. “I’ve watched Ben on that screen,” says Greene, nodding. “I’ve watched him lots of times.”

Ben would be Ben Johnson, the disgraced Jamaican-born Canadian who won the 100 meters at the 1988 Seoul Olympics in an unthinkable world record of 9.79 seconds, only to be stripped of his gold medal–and the record–when he tested positive for a steroid. Seoul transformed Johnson into a pariah, a symbol of the dirty track athlete. Yet to sprinters, 9.79 became a grail, digits disembodied from the man and his methods. “Ben ran that time,” says '92 Olympic champion Linford Christie of Great Britain. “Start to finish, nine-point-seven-nine.”

Greene looked hard at those numbers, too. In the two years since he nearly quit sprinting and sought other employment, he had matured into the best sprinter in the world. He won the 100 at the 1997 world championships, beating world-record holder Donovan Bailey of Canada in 9.86 seconds and narrowly failing to break Bailey’s world record of 9.84 from the Atlanta Olympics. As he prospered, Greene hungered still more for the record. In '98 he and training partner Ato Boldon of Trinidad promised almost daily that the mark would fall. Outsiders endorsed the goal but not the boast. “When Maurice stops talking about breaking the record, he’s going to do something stupid fast,” said Mike Holloway, who coaches sprinters at Florida and has worked with '92 Olympic bronze medalist Dennis Mitchell.

This year Greene and Boldon promised to attack the record with their feet and not their tongues. They might as well have promised to stop breathing. “I intend to break the world record,” Greene said on this spring night. And more: “Me and Ato talk about Ben’s race,” he said. “It was obvious he was into something, but aside from that, the things he did, the times he hit along the way, were just incredible. I can run 9.79. I know I can.”

He could not have known how soon. On the evening of June 16, in the same Athens Olympic stadium in which he won the world title two years ago, Greene ripped through a windless dusk and matched Johnson’s 9.79, demolishing Bailey’s world record and tearing more from the 100 mark than had been taken off in a single bite since the onset of automatic timing more than three decades ago. Far from overwhelmed, Greene was struck by the ease of the effort. “No way I thought it was that fast,” he said upon returning to the U.S. last Friday. “It felt real easy. I believe the record will go down again this season. This is only the beginning.”

In truth it’s more like the middle. The beginning came less than a week after his flirtation with Help Wanted, when Greene went to Indianapolis for the 1997 national championships. Not only was his athletic psyche in tatters, but his emotions were also shredded after the deaths of an aunt and a grandfather in the previous week. Yet Greene’s coach, John Smith, the man he went west to study under, sensed that Greene was on the edge of a breakthrough. Smith went to Greene’s hotel room and embraced him. “This is the time to dig down and find something in yourself,” Smith said. “You’re ready to run fast. Go out and do it, and when you see the time, act like you expected it.”

Early the next evening Greene exploded from the blocks in a preliminary round of the 100 meters and opened a huge lead before shutting down his engines 15 meters from the finish and coasting across the line. His time of 9.96 seconds was .12 faster than he had ever run and put him among the world’s best. “I could feel my eyes get huge,” recalls Greene, “but I had to hold it in. Man, it was hard.” At last the lightbulb was illuminated. The want ads were flushed.

The next night Greene won his first national title, in a scorching 9.90, making him then the third-fastest American in history, behind Leroy Burrell (9.85) and Carl Lewis (9.86). Less than two months later Greene stunned Bailey in Athens. It has only gotten better. In just his third season of elite competition, Greene has laid a foundation to become the most accomplished 100-meter man in history (box, previous page). He has broken 10 seconds for the 100 meters 17 times, twice more than Lewis did in his 17-year international career and only nine times fewer than alltime leader Frankie Fredericks of Namibia, who has been competing at a high level for a decade. Of the 26 times of 9.93 seconds or faster run by Americans, Greene has the most, nine. (Lewis has six; Burrell and Mitchell have three apiece.) He has run seven of the 10 fastest times in U.S. history. “He’s the best right now. Everybody’s chasing Maurice,” says sprinter Brian Lewis, a member of the '97 U.S. team at the worlds.

“What surprises me is his consistency,” says Burrell, who retired after the 1997 season. “Lots of people run fast once or twice, but Greene is on a three-year run. People have no idea how difficult that is.”

Greene lacks only an Olympic gold medal to gild his resume. No small matter, this, but barring injury, Greene will be the heavy favorite in the 100 not only at this summer’s world championships in Seville (where he will also attempt the 200 and probably anchor the American 4x100 relay team), but also at next year’s Olympics in Sydney. There are many races in the interim–including a 200 summit meeting with world-record holder Michael Johnson at this weekend’s nationals in Eugene, Ore.–but gold in Sydney is the only real goal left. “Everyone is coming after me now,” says Greene. “Fine, let them keep on coming. I’m the fastest man in the world, no doubt. I think about Sydney, and I can’t wait. I just can’t wait.”

In a small room on the ground floor of the field house on the campus of Kansas City Kansas Community College (KCKCC) one afternoon last month, Al Hobson pushed a tape into a VCR and punched the PLAY button. A 58-year-old former Marine who worked for 29 years as an auto parts buyer for General Motors, Hobson loves coaching young sprinters, which he has done for more than two decades. Greene joined Hobson’s Kansas City Chargers track club at age eight. “That’s Maurice,” said Hobson, putting a finger on the screen. A skinny 16-year-old with a high fade tore down the straightaway and laid waste to a 100-meter field at a regional AAU meet. The image switched to a van ride home. Greene pulled medals from a knapsack on the floor and draped them around his neck. “I won one, two, three, four… I won four gold medals and set one record,” he shouted, mugging for the lens.

“That’s Maurice, too,” whispered Hobson, smiling. “Same kid. Always that way.”

For almost 23 years Greene lived in a circle whose outer edge was no more than 20 miles from the center of Kansas City. He grew up the youngest of four children, three of them sons, born to Ernest and Jackie Greene. Maurice’s brother Ernest, now 29, was the first promising sprinter in the family and would eventually run 10.24 for the 100 and reach the semifinals of the 1992 Olympic trials. Ernest brought Maurice to Hobson, and Hobson guided Maurice to countless AAU youth titles and three consecutive 100-200 doubles for Schlagle High in the Kansas state championships. (Maurice added a win in the 400 as a senior.) Maurice idolized Carl Lewis and vowed someday to beat him.

A poor ACT score scared off most college football and track recruiters, which was fine with Greene. He had received a Project Choice scholarship that would pay for his schooling wherever he went, and he was not all that interested in collegiate competition anyway. Homesick at the mere thought of leaving the Kansas City area, he attended Park College in nearby Parkville, Mo., and KCKCC and continued to train with Hobson, which seemed an inspired decision when in 1995 Greene qualified for both the indoor and outdoor worlds and, as promised, beat Lewis, in their first meeting, at the Texas Relays. However, the Olympic year, '96, was a disaster. Greene injured his right hamstring in April and never fully recovered that season. He bombed out of the U.S. trials in the second round, couldn’t get himself into any European races and sulked around his hometown, finding his workouts stale and sensing that he needed a change.

It would be a painful break. When Maurice was a teenager, his mother agreed to raise a niece’s five sons, aged four months to five years. The Greene house overflowed. Maurice often slept at Hobson’s. “He became like a son to me and my wife,” says Hobson. Then on Sept. 26, 1996, Greene departed for L.A. “I had to leave,” he says. “I was at the point in my workouts where I knew what Hop was going to say before he said it. I needed something different.”

Maurice drove with his father from Kansas City to Los Angeles in his GMC Jimmy, the two splitting time at the wheel. On his first day in Los Angeles, Maurice drove to UCLA, sat by the track and waited for Smith to arrive. “So you want to run fast?” Smith said upon seeing Greene.

“Yes, I do,” Greene answered.

However, in nine torturous months, he only ran more slowly. Smith broke Greene down with punishing workouts and tested his resolve with withering soliloquies. “There were times when Maurice just stood all by himself out on the infield because he didn’t want anybody to see him crying,” says Boldon, who had been coached by Smith for three years when Greene arrived. In the evening Boldon would take Greene back to his house and review videotape of the day’s practice, helping Greene derive some good from Smith’s hectoring.

Away from the track Greene subsisted on a $20,000 shoe contract from Nike. He borrowed money from Boldon and from his manager, Emanuel Hudson. He lived rent-free with J.B. Hill, a charitable man 25 years his senior who had played high school basketball with Hobson.

Once Greene found his groove, mixing natural speed–“Can’t make tuna salad without the tuna,” says Smith. “Maurice was born fast”–with Hobson’s foundation and Smith’s precise mechanics, he developed a low, efficient style that repeats itself like a great golf swing. There are few moving parts and little wasted energy.

As good as his body is, Greene’s head is better. In the summer of 1995, when Greene was a wide-eyed 20-year-old on his first European tour, he met up with the seasoned Mitchell for a series of three all-out 150-meter sprints on a track in Monte Carlo. Mitchell, a voracious trainer, left Greene puking on the grass after the first two and offered to let him quit before finishing. Greene stood, wiped the vomit from his mouth and beat Mitchell on the last sprint. Two years later, at the worlds in Athens, Bailey messed with Greene’s head through two days of preliminary rounds, but Greene emerged to win convincingly in the final. “Nothing that comes down the road seems to affect him,” says Burrell.

Boldon, who runs against Greene virtually every day and will most likely be his principal opponent in the worlds and the Olympics, says, “Maurice Greene is the most competitive human being I’ve ever known. Off the track, he’s fun-loving, with all that Midwestern ‘Yes, ma’am, no, sir’ stuff. But on it, it’s a hell of a contrast. He’s tough. I’ve gotten tougher just being around him.”

Greene’s home in a Brady Bunch neighborhood has become a de facto dormitory for Hudson’s and Smith’s HSI club members. (HSI is officially registered as “HS International” and informally called “Handling Speed Intelligently.”) Consider it fair repayment. HSI, which was formed by Hudson and Smith in 1996, is a thriving enclave of 20 athletes that has provided Greene with stability when he needed it most. “Like a family,” Greene says.

One spring night Greene’s “family” was scattered about the house. Hurdler Larry Wade sat at Greene’s computer, lost in a chat room; hurdler Anjanette Kirkland wrote letters at the kitchen table; and sprinter Curtis Johnson soaked up the DVD. The house is plenty big enough for all of them to visit frequently. (Track and field may be struggling for survival in the U.S., but with prize money and appearance fees, most of them earned in Europe, and endorsement contracts, a sprinter of Greene’s class can still get wealthy, which Greene has.)

On the wall of Greene’s office is a framed verse that he reads daily and believes:

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

Greene and Wade are driving to dinner now, with the top down on Greene’s black Mercedes 500SL, the one with the MO GOLD vanity plates. The world’s fastest man drives accordingly. At a stoplight, the stereo causes nearby soccer moms to cringe behind the windows of their SUVs. Greene and Wade begin bouncing to the music. They are young and fast, running when the sun comes up.

Not behind no desk.

Breaking 10 seconds remains the standard of excellence for 100-meter men. At age 24, Maurice Greene (above, 112, setting his world-record 9.79 in Athens) has gone under 10 seconds 17 times, putting him on course to become the most prolific sub-10 sprinter ever. Here are the sub-10 totals of the seven fastest men in history and the number of years of elite competition it took them to amass those totals. AGE, SUB- PERSONAL ATHLETE, STATUS 10s SPAN BEST COUNTRY Frankie Fredericks, 31,active 26 9 years 9.86 Namibia SKINNY: Four-time Olympic silver medalist Ato Boldon, 25, active 21 4 years 9.86 Trinidad & Tobago SKINNY: 1996 Olympic bronze medalist Maurice Greene, U.S. 24, active 17 3 years 9.79 SKINNY: World-record holder Donovan Bailey, 31, active 16 5 years 9.84 Canada SKINNY: 1996 Olympic champion Carl Lewis, U.S. 37, retired 15 15 years 9.86 SKINNY: 1984 and '88 Olympic champion Leroy Burrell, U.S. 32, retired 9 9 years 9.85 SKINNY: Former world-record holder Linford Christie, 39, inactive 9 11 years 9.87 Great Britain SKINNY: 1992 Olympic champion

PHOTOS (COLOR): The Gold Standard: Sprinter Maurice Greene has found his stride, smashed the 100-meter record and set his sights on Olympic stardom

PHOTO (COLOR): Curves ahead Greene (9), who won this 200 at the TFA meet on June 6, will take on world-record holder Johnson at the nationals.

PHOTO (COLOR): Tongue lashing Greene licked the field at the May 30 Pre Classic.



Enough with humility and gracious, congratulatory fluff. More than an hour after he had watched his training partner, Ato Boldon of Trinidad, win the 100 meters in a blistering 9.86 seconds at the Mount San Antonio College Relays on Sunday; after he’d helped explain how Boldon had equaled the third-fastest time in history (and Carl Lewis’s fastest), had missed Donovan Bailey’s world record by just .02 of a second and had run faster than any other sprinter so early in any season, Maurice Greene turned deliciously selfish.

“Hey, John, I’ve got to run a 100, and soon,” he squealed at John Smith, the Los Angeles-based sprint coach who trains both Boldon and Greene and who has chosen to keep them in separate races until early summer.

“Oh, man, come on down, I’m right here,” shouted Boldon from a nearby bench.

PHOTO (COLOR): Whoosh! Boldon, always fast early in the season, knows what his rivals will think after his time at Mt. SAC: We’ll get him in July.

Greene paced the worn grass of the Mt. SAC warmup area, manic with energy. He is the world and U.S. champion at 100 meters–and owner of a 9.86 of his own–and on Sunday he won the 200 meters in a scorching 20.03 seconds. Yet it was only the fragrance of Boldon’s 100 that excited him. “We are going to go at it,” said Greene, eyeballing Boldon with a malevolence that is both serious and familiar, repeated dozens of times a day in their train-and-trash sessions at UCLA. “And when we go at it, that record is going way, way down.”

It’s Boldon’s and Greene’s common cause to annihilate the world record of 9.84, set by Bailey at the 1996 Olympics, a passion that is derived in part from their dislike of Bailey. Last summer at the world championships in Athens, Bailey tried for two days to unnerve Boldon and the internationally unproven Greene, before Greene endured to beat him in the final, sticking out his tongue at Bailey as they crossed the finish line. In postrace interviews, the erudite Bailey belittled Greene’s nervous, unpolished manner of speaking. More recently, after Greene defeated Bailey in Australia in February, Bailey suggested to the Sydney Daily Telegraph Mirror, that Greene has used performance-enhancing drugs. (Never mind that such talk is a given for any rising star in the track world.) “Donovan is an intelligent guy,” said Boldon. “What he’s trying to do is get a rise out of Maurice. Well, he’s going to get it; not only am I going to break his record, Maurice is going to break it, too.”

Beyond Bailey, there’s the 100-meter record. “Soft, very soft,” said Boldon. As dramatic evolutionary changes have unfolded in every sport–300-pound football linemen who run the 40 in 4.9, baseball players who threaten to hit 70 home runs in a season, basketball players who break not just backboards but basket supports–track, too, has been on fast-forward. Nearly every men’s record has been crushed in the last decade, many in the last two years. But the 100-meter mark has barely moved, decreasing just .11 of a second since Jim Hines’s 9.95 at the 1968 Mexico City Games. The biggest drop during that period was at the world championships of 1991, when Lewis lowered the record from 9.90 to 9.86. (Ben Johnson ran 9.83 and 9.79, but both marks were expunged after he admitted to using steroids.) “We’re going to get this thing under 9.80,” Boldon promised. “The question is, How much under?”

When the 24-year-old Boldon speaks like this, particularly in April, track cognoscenti cringe. He has two Olympic bronze medals and a world championship (last year in the 200), yet his words and deeds promise much more. A year ago Boldon opened his 100-meter season by running 9.89 at the Modesto Relays but only once ran faster thereafter–a why now? 9.87 in a quarterfinal heat at the worlds. He finished fifth behind Greene in the Athens final. Similarly, he peaked in the 200 with a 19.77 in early July in Stuttgart, then staggered home to his first world title with a wind-aided 20.04 against a field without Michael Johnson. Boldon is the slugger who hits 35 home runs by the All-Star break and finishes with 42. “I know exactly what other sprinters will wake up saying when they see what I’ve run here,” he said. “‘Boldon’s at it again. We’ll get him in July.’”

His midseason struggles are painful to watch not just because Boldon is so talented but also because he’s a wellspring of intelligence, humor and infectious enthusiasm. After winning Sunday’s 100 with a gusty-but-allowable 1.8 meters-per-second wind at his back, Boldon carried the flag of Trinidad around the modest stadium that sits among green hillsides in Walnut, Calif., an hour east of Los Angeles. On the infield he conducted a press conference and then did several interviews on his cell phone. “He’s the type of person whom people gravitate to,” says Jonathan Ogden, a former UCLA track teammate of Boldon’s and now a Pro Bowl offensive tackle with the Baltimore Ravens. “He loves to talk. We used to say, It’s a good thing we all like Ato so much, because if we didn’t, we’d want to kill him for talking so much. But I miss him. There are no people like him in football.”

Boldon–the first of two sons of a Jamaican mother, Hope, and a Trinidadian father, Guy–comes naturally to his role. He was named Ato Jabari, from the words in Yoruba, a West African language, meaning “brilliant leader.” Says Guy, “If you name your son Jesse or Frank, you can expect him to behave like a Jesse or Frank. I wanted my children to look upward.” To underscore his desire, Guy asked a favor from the developer who built the family’s home outside Port-of-Spain, and thus the knoll on which they lived was named Jabari Hill.

Ato lived in Trinidad until he was 14; after his parents divorced, he and his brother, Okera, moved to New York City with Hope. There Ato was introduced to track by Jamaica (Queens) High coach Joe Trupiano, who witnessed Ato’s arresting speed being squandered in a soccer game. Before Ato’s senior year in high school, Hope took a job as a human resources consultant in Atlanta and moved Ato to California, where he lived for a year with an uncle, Leroi Boldon, a veterinarian who gave Ato the keys to his gold Mercedes 380 SL. “Playboy lifestyle without the income,” says Ato. “In retrospect, not a good thing.”

This was especially true in light of Boldon’s precocity, in not just athletics but also art, music and academics. As a 12-year-old in Trinidad, Ato says he ranked sixth in the country on a standardized test given to 50,000 children, yet his grades were mediocre. As a high school senior, he says, he scored 1280 on the SAT (including a strong 670 on the verbal portion), yet nearly failed to graduate and had to attend junior college for two years before enrolling at UCLA. The parallel to his track career is obvious: Fast starts followed by a flat curve at best, a flameout at worst.

“I get bored very easily, I know that,” Boldon said as he sat at a picnic table near the track. “Some years I open fast, and all of a sudden my mind is racing ahead and I’m thinking of what it will feel like when I break the world record–or I just suddenly switch events. This year the word is patience.” He keeps in mind a line of Scripture that has become his theme. “Hebrews 12,” said Boldon. “‘Let us run with patience the race that is set before us.’”

Patience to be sure, but as Greene would remind him: company, too.

Section: World’s Fastest Human

Maurice Greene is the latest holder of the grand and curious title World’s Fastest Human bestowed on men who have stolen fractions of seconds from the 100-meter record

IT’S AN UNUSUAL title, World’s Fastest Human. The human is the kicker. That has a special ring to it. Most times, when employing definitive terms to designate superiority in our favored species, it’s the Something Man or maybe the Something Woman. The World’s Strongest Man, for example. Even in sideshows, the freaks were half-man, half-animal, or half-man, half-bird. They were not half-human. No, the World’s Fastest, human division, stands pretty much alone. Maybe because the resolution is so precise: First one to the finish line wins. On your mark, get set, go. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine…and change. The title is determined by minuscule but indisputable fractions.

“I’ll tell you this,” says Bob Hayes, who was the World’s Fastest Human not so long ago, “once you become that, you can only go down.”

Although we have always had fastest humans, the best evidence is that we’ve had the World’s Fastest Human for only 80 years. We don’t know who coined the title, but apparently it was first applied to Charlie Paddock, in the spring of 1921, after he ran the 100 yards in 9.6 seconds in Berkeley, Calif. Paddock was quite a fellow. He was the 1920 Olympic champion in the 100 meters and was known to down a sherry and a raw egg before a race. On the cinders he was partial to wearing silk. Superstitious, he knocked on every wooden thing he could find on his way to the starting line, and then he engaged in a studied ritual, putting his hands way out in front, then drawing them back. It could be distracting, especially if you were in the lane next to him. At the other end of the race he finished by throwing himself into the air as the tape loomed. Off the track, too, Charlie Paddock was a fascinating piece of work.

“You mean I can’t live up to him?” asks Maurice Greene, the latest in the line of World’s Fastest Humans. He is altogether a different sort from the original. The myth persists that the fastest sprinters are all of a type–arrogant and gunslingers are the most favored epithets–but the evidence doesn’t support that hackneyed assessment. Carl Lewis and Leroy Burrell were, for example, teammates and friends as well as rivals for years. However, apart from the fact that they were, in succession, the World’s Fastest Human, they seemed to have nothing in common. Lewis was thin, shrill and controversial. Burrell was stocky, reserved and conventional. He has become a college coach; Lewis, an aspiring movie actor.

Ever deductive, Lewis explains whence he thinks the bogus sprinters’ image derives. “A lot of it comes from the fact that we don’t stay together that much,” he says. “Pole vaulters are always together, talking about their poles. Who else can they talk to? And the weight guys, they’re all on drugs, so they have that in common to talk about. Distance runners run together–I mean, it’s so boring, all that running. But no matter how close I was to my teammates, even if we’d drive to a meet together, then we’d split up. I suppose that made us look arrogant. Some sprinters do think we’re knockout punchers. They think they have to get into your head and all that stuff. I hate that.”

Not unlike the odd couple of Lewis and Burrell, today we have Greene and Ato Boldon of Trinidad, his teammate on HSI, the Irvine, California-based firm that represents two dozen track athletes. Boldon has never quite been the Fastest, but he has been the 200-meter world champion, and he often follows close on Greene in the 100, as he did in Sydney, silver to Greene’s gold. They are the best of friends, yet Inger Miller, their teammate, says simply, “Mo’s a feeler, Ato’s a thinker.” You can’t get any more different than that.

On the track Boldon looks as if he were running in black tie, stylishly coiffed, all sleek in his shades. Now, though, here comes the World’s Fastest Human stepping into his lane in the center of the track, number 4. Mo Greene is shorn of locks and wears loose, casual apparel: a nondescript baggy shirt pulled over another one and floppy sweatpants. He looks as though he is preparing to rake leaves. Suddenly he tenses, gazing toward the finish, visualizing the race before him, then looking down in a kind of meditation, it seems, and finally stalking here and there in his lane, as an animal would mark his realm. As late as 1924, when Paddock was still running, the lanes were indeed territorial, divided by cords that ran their length. Greene still has that proprietary attitude. If you own lane 4, the rest of the track should belong to you too.

Greene seems to understand what he has fallen heir to. The World’s Fastest Human is not a mere champion or some vote-getting MVP choice. Perhaps the Fastest once shared eminence with the Heavyweight Champion of the World, but there is no royal line to that title anymore, since it has been split up and is almost capriciously bestowed by alphabet organizations, cable networks and Don King. Anyway, with the World’s Fastest Human, what is most important is not that he beats other people to succeed to the title but that he advances the attainment of Homo sapiens. We are all, after a fashion, in the World’s Fastest Human’s train. The honor can be overwhelming. “It’s mind-boggling when you realize it’s you,” Hayes says. “It’s hard for me to speak of it.”

Says Lewis: “Anybody who can relate what it’s like being the World’s Fastest Human, he’d have to be really strange. I didn’t feel any different as the fastest than I felt when I was the 50th fastest. So I would tell myself that I’m only the fastest that anyone knows of. There’s a kid in Africa or Iran or somewhere who could run faster, but his life just took a different path.”

Greene, who is uncommonly confident about what he does, is equally humble about what he is. “I don’t think of myself as the World’s Fastest Human,” he says. “If I did, I’d lose my edge. Being the fastest is only my job. It’s not who I am. The person sitting here talking to you is not the person you see on the track.”

Appearances support this view. Greene is 5’9" and weighs 175 pounds. In repose at home he is almost cute, not at all resembling that powerful, hulking creature that preys upon the track, exhibiting such a sense of supremacy. He did not even make the 1996 Olympics and nearly quit the sport, but a few weeks after the Games he drove from his Kansas City home to Los Angeles to work under John Smith, the renowned sprint coach. When Smith rather casually inquired, “What do you want to do?” Greene baldly replied, “I want to put American track and field on my shoulders.”

Smith, 51, who held the 400-meter world record in 1971, is a proud match for his premier student. “In every great sprinter, God left one thing out,” he declares.

What did God leave out of Mo, John?


In addition to Smith, two circumstances–one personal, one institutional–have shaped Greene. For the most part our fastest sprinters have been groomed in college. Greene, except for dallying awhile in a community college, enjoyed no intermediate status. “He went directly from high school to the international stage,” says Craig Masback, CEO of USA Track & Field. “That’s a much bigger jump than some NBA star makes.”

Then, there is this: Greene, like all American track stalwarts, has learned that he is a prophet without honor in his own land. World’s Fastest Human he may be–and, by his own assessment, “a rock star” in much of Europe and Asia–but he possesses a low Q rating in the U.S.A., especially in any year that is not divisible by four. Lewis has been retired five years and was last World’s Fastest a decade ago, but many Americans think he still reigns.

Unfortunately for Greene, many of his countrymen recall him primarily as one of the four Ugly Americans who hoo-hawed and pranced about, rolling around in red-white-and-blue, after they had won the 4x100 relay at Sydney. In fact, it was Greene’s teammates who were guilty of the grossest exhibitionism. “They were just kids–kids from the ghetto who’d never been in a situation like that before,” Smith says. “So they overdid it, they acted like buffoons.” Greene, however, wasn’t much more exuberant than when he’d won the 100 on his own. Nevertheless, because track has such low visibility in the U.S., that singular moment from the Olympics prevails in most memories.

But no. Look over there now, in the midnight shadows, sitting silently on the curb–there is a more representative Mo Greene. It is mid-June, and fireworks are going off, signaling the end of the Grand Prix meet in Athens, at the stadium where the track events of the 2004 Games will be held. It was also here, four years ago, that Greene first won the world championship, and on this track in 1999 that he sped to the finish in 9.79 seconds, which is the fastest anyone created in the image of God has ever negotiated 100 meters…clean. (Ben Johnson also ran a 9.79, in 1988, but it was expunged from the record book after he tested positive for steroids.)

Greene has been the ballyhooed star of this year’s meet, paid much the highest appearance fee. But now the show is over, and the promoters have forgotten their meal ticket. There is no car to take the World’s Fastest Human through the horrendous Athens traffic back to his hotel. One can imagine almost any other U.S. sports hero’s reaction to such a revolting development: sullen, stomping about, ordering his do-boys to commandeer a stretch. But Mo sits patiently on the curb in the dark, and when his manager, Emmanuel Hudson, finally scares up a car, Greene refuses to let it depart before he has jammed in a passel of teammates, all around him and on his lap.

The kid from Kansas City remains grateful. Even if he has not broken his record this night, even if he has managed only 9.91 (which he, of such high standards, characterizes as a time that “sucks”), the World’s Fastest Human makes millions of dollars a year, and if he is not famous in Cincinnati, he is in Osaka. He is rich and he is Nike and he is happy. Only a day earlier, ambling off the practice track in Athens, Greene had suddenly thrown up his arms and screamed, “I love this sport! I love my teammates! I love all the things that go with my sport!” Then he dashed around a corner and up a hill, running just for the joy of it.

UNLIKE MANY modern athletes, Greene understands his place in the annals of his sport. “Mo is very respectful of history, of what came before,” Smith says. Seeing Greene’s potential, the coach early on instructed him in how to behave, should he indeed become royalty. “He caught on right away,” Smith says. “In fact, now he’s spending too much time promoting the whole sport.”

At the Penn Relays in April, Michael Johnson was making what was billed as his “farewell appearance on American soil.” While Johnson rarely competed in the U.S. and was never popular, lacking any crossover appeal–“the anti-Carl,” Lewis dismissively calls him–he was Lewis’s successor as the premier U.S. male track champion. Greene and Johnson have never been friends, and before their 200-meter showdown at the U.S. Olympic Trials last summer they even had something of a newspaper feud. Riled, they both got all worked up and injured themselves in the race–thus to lose the Sydney medals that were there for the taking. Yet during his last U.S. victory lap at the Penn Relays, on the far turn, Johnson was startled by Greene, who dashed onto the track and embraced him. Ave atque vale. Hail and farewell.

After the meet Greene sat in the hotel bus. It began to depart, but he demanded that the driver wait till Johnson arrived. “I can come right back for him,” the driver said, but Greene protested that there was too much traffic. So the bus waited.

This summer, though, Greene has assumed Johnson’s mantle, and even if Marion Jones remains the prime all-gender U.S. track personality, he will be the indisputable male star at the world championships starting this week in Edmonton. The mere fact that Greene competes in the 100 affords him the most visibility. The 100 is more than ever the cynosure of track, but for a long time even the World’s Fastest Human played second fiddle to the mile. That was the glamour race. As recently as a quarter century ago, middle-distance runners could demand guarantees, while sprinters had to take nothing or leave it. Two things changed this situation.

One was Lewis. Smith swings his arm wide around the lobby of the five-star hotel where the track performers are sequestered in Athens. “We’re in this hotel because of one man: Carl Lewis,” he says. “Carl said, ‘This is the kind of hotel where I’m staying,’ and he did, and soon everybody was with him. Nobody was better at supporting other athletes than Carl. He was smart and confident, but he got an unfair reputation. Amateurs were supposed to be grateful, and he wasn’t, and he was made to pay for that.”

“They didn’t like what I was making, so all the promoters declared a prix fixe for everybody,” Lewis says. “I said, ‘Fine, I’ll take the summer off.’” There would be no cut rate. The promoters caved. Lewis was too valuable at the box office. Also, he was the first postwar World’s Fastest Human to market the role.

The second reason for the ascension of the sprints was a variant of racial prejudice. Blacks had been a presence in sprints as far back as 1886, when a black man identified only as A. Wharton became one of the first runners on record to “beat even time”–that is, run the 100 yards in 10 seconds flat. (The 100 yards is about nine yards and a foot shorter than the 100 meters.) Eddie Tolan, whom white sportswriters dubbed the Midnight Express, was the first African-American to win Olympic gold in the 100 meters, in 1932, preceding Jesse Owens, the so-called Ebony Antelope, in 1936. After Hayes’s gold in 1964, the sprints were increasingly–then utterly–dominated by blacks, even as the longer races, especially the mile, remained largely a white province. However, as Africans began to enter the distance lists, beating whites, interest in the longer races, even the mile, began to diminish. Suddenly African-American and African-European sprinters became more attractive.

Still, even now a journeyman white middle-distance runner typically commands higher guarantees than all but the top black sprinters. Emmanuel Hudson shakes his head ruefully in acknowledgment of this economic reality. “Oh, definitely,” he says. Hudson knows.

Hudson is lobby-sitting in Athens with Ian Stewart, a former world-class middle-distance runner, who organizes and promotes British meets. The business of track remains something of an old-world Turkish bazaar, with runners or their managers haggling with promoters–not only about guarantees, but also about airline tickets (including class), hotels and performance bonuses. “If we ever get a white American–or even a [white] British–runner who can win the 1,500, he’ll dwarf what Maurice is making,” says Stewart. Hudson purses his lips, nodding at that cold assessment.

So if Alan Webb, the Virginia high school phenom who broke the scholastic mile record at the Prefontaine meet in Oregon this spring, develops into a star, he’ll turn the economics of track and field on its head. Ever mindful of the continuum of history, Greene–he who ran onto the track to bid Michael Johnson goodbye–jumped out and embraced Webb in welcome at the Prefontaine. “He don’t look like no high school dude,” Mo said.

Whereas Lewis caught–and fought–track during a transitional phase, when it was seeking to shuck the hypocrisy of amateurism, Greene is really the first all-pro World’s Fastest Human. He still must deal with a sport that remains marketing-deficient (even in Europe) and antediluvian in so many other respects. Surely no sport has entered the 21st century if it still features those rinky-dink number bibs that are sold to advertisers as billboards by meet promoters and attached to all track jerseys. Imagine Pete Sampras having to take safety pins–safety pins!–and affix a tacky paper ID number to his shirt before he heads onto Centre Court.

Masback even believes the metric system in track inhibits its popularity in nonmetric America. “The 40-yard distance they use in football scouting is probably better known now in the U.S. than the 100 meters,” he says. Always, too, there is the specter of drugs, track’s one Horseman of the Apocalypse. Who knows how prevalent doping is? “It’s not true that everyone does it,” says Lewis. “Maybe 10 percent, but you get to the finals of some event, then it’s five out of eight.” Masback protests that the U.S., with random testing, has greatly reduced drug use among its runners, and that they are getting a bum rap. Regardless, the perception of rampant doping remains, so much of corporate America shies away from associating with track. Also, given human nature, whoever is on top bears the greatest suspicion.

“So we’re the whipping boys in track today,” Smith snaps. “I’m used to that talk about HSI. It’s like the stigma of being black. But if they’re whispering that we’re succeeding because of drugs, then we’ve already won, because that means they don’t believe they can beat us. We are pure of body, mind and soul. We’ve endured the most stringent of tests. Mo’s been tested three times in a week, but we’re still running the fastest. That’s because of our belief system–not any pharmacology.”

MOST OF the World’s Fastest Humans have had short shelf lives. This had largely to do with the shamateur nature of the sport and the emphasis on the Olympics, which forced track stars to quit training and get a job even when they had their best races left in them. Who remembers Jim Hines, gold medalist at Mexico City in 1968, the first man to crack 10 seconds in the 100 meters? He abandoned the track to join the Miami Dolphins, for whom he played for one season and then disappeared from view. Lewis is the only 100-meter repeat gold medalist and one of the few “speed demons,” as we used to call them, who sustained their fame. It would be melodramatic to suggest that World’s Fastest Humans are jinxed, but few have prospered for long. Wyomia Tyus, the World’s Fastest Woman in the '60s, observed, “The world isn’t attuned to sprinters. We’re around, flashy and successful for a year or two. Then we’re gone, while the world goes on being run by plodders.”

Bobby Joe Morrow, the triple gold medalist (100,200and 4x100 relay in Melbourne in 1956), was literally left at the airport as the 1960 U.S. team departed for Rome, informed only then that, as an alternate, he would not be going, and he remains bitter about it to this day. Harold Abrahams, the 1924 gold medalist, was–wouldn’t you know it?–barely dead when Chariots of Fire made him world famous. Jesse Owens, of course, became a saintly figure because he showed up Hitler, but a fat lot of good that did him back in the land of the free and the home of the brave. He was accused of letting his country down because he didn’t enter foreign races that the Amateur Athletic Union had decreed he should run in (without pay, naturally). Owens left Ohio State to take advantage of his moment in the sun, then bemoaned his lack of real opportunity: “Everybody wanted to meet me, but no one wanted to offer me a job.” Further, when he tried to take advantage of his symbolic status, other blacks derided him as America’s “official Negro”; Harry Edwards, the Berkeley sociology professor, even disparaged Owens as “a bootlicking Uncle Tom.”

Paddock, who had been Owens’s childhood hero, unsuccessfully tried to persuade him to remain an amateur, arguing that he could make more money under the table. Paddock knew whereof he spoke; he had profited handsomely that way in the '20s. Indeed, until Lewis in the 1980s, Paddock was the most entrepreneurial sprinter. He was pretty much his own p.r. man, and he would run races over odd distances, establishing records willy-nilly. His amours also kept him in the news. He was engaged to a movie star, Bebe Daniels, and later made the columns when he broke up with another actress, one Madeline Lubetty, who sued Paddock (the cad), demanding $100,000 as what was called in those innocent times “a heart balm.”

Prefiguring the outspoken Lewis, Paddock feuded with the simon-pure track pooh-bahs. They had a conniption when he starred in a movie–The Olympic Hero–getting paid pretty much to play himself. He was suspended twice for breaking rules against making money. Like Lewis, though, Paddock never was silenced. He even began one bylined newspaper article, “Shooting is too good for these officials…”

In the end Paddock suffered the worst–and most sadly ironic–fate of all those in the Fastest club. He’d served on the front lines in France during World War I as an 18-year-old second lieutenant and escaped without a scratch. Then, as a captain in World War II, far from any action, he was a passenger on a military plane that crashed, and Charlie Paddock was dead at age 42.

Still, of all the Fastest, Bullet Bob Hayes has experienced the greatest extremes. Born into segregation, he became the nation’s heroic gold-medalist sprinter in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, an All-Pro in football, then an alcoholic and a convict. Now he sits in his mother’s house in Jacksonville, essentially reborn twice, of body and spirit. When he was paroled from prison in February 1980, wags said it proved he was the World’s Fastest Human, since he did five years in 10 months. But now Hayes really does seem to have outrun both the devil and death.

Last year, at age 59, he suffered from prostate cancer, pneumonia and a weakened heart. His lower body swelled with 73 extra pounds of fluid, and his heart at one point slowed to 12 beats a minute. “That’s like dead,” he says succinctly. The doctors even told Hayes’s sister, Lena Johnson, that they could not do anything more for him. Somehow he recovered, and as he sits among a scatter of hundreds of get-well letters and prayer cards, his legs jiggle constantly, nervously, his sockless sneakered feet shifting as if at any moment he might lift them again and dash out the door.

“I can only believe that I survived because so many people prayed for me, and God got me through,” he says. “Now I’m in His path, but there were so many times when I was on another path. I can’t practice perfection, but I can practice progress, and that’s what I’m doing. Tomorrow is not promised to you, but I’m fortunate, I’m blessed. I’m a miracle. I can see. I can hear. I can walk. I can still run. Not fast, but I can. I can still run.”

When Hayes was young, he may have been the Very Fastest Human Ever. Five-feet-eleven, 190 pounds, no sprinter had been stronger. He wasn’t a bullet at all, more like a mortar. Pigeon-toed, his arms pumping, his spikes tearing holes in the track, Hayes ran, as one coach said, “like he was pounding grapes into wine.” He won 53 straight sprints and took the '64 gold in 10 flat despite running on an inside lane that had been chewed up by the recently concluded 10,000-meter race. He finished seven feet ahead of the runner-up, which, for 100 meters, translates into Secretariat at the Belmont.

A couple of days later, when Hayes took the baton and anchored the 4x100 relay, he flew past a Frenchman who started almost seven yards ahead of him. With the jogging relay start, Hayes ran 8.4, going about 30 mph. Nobody runs the 100 yards anymore–the 100 yards is the Stalin of statistics, having been expunged from record books as if nobody had ever run it–but shhh: In 1963, at the AAU championships, Hayes ran 100 yards in a record 9.1.

Most remarkable, he accomplished all this as a sideline. When Lyndon Johnson called up Jake Gaither, Hayes’s football coach at Florida A&M, and asked him to keep Hayes healthy for the Olympics, Gaither replied, “But Mr. President, Bob is a football player. He just happens to be the World’s Fastest Human.”

Consider: In the 37 years since Tokyo the record has been reduced by 0.21, barely a fifth of a second. “I played football almost half the year,” Hayes says. “I ran cross-country to get in shape. I trained on a clay track. I ate the same food that you do. Maurice seems to be built perfectly. He’s so strong. It’s all so different now.”

Hayes was only 21–years younger than what we now know a sprinter’s prime to be–when he left track to make money at football. We can only speculate what he might have achieved if he hadn’t gone to the Dallas Cowboys and been such a good receiver. Cowboys coach Tom Landry was amazed at his abilities. Dallas running back Calvin Hill asked Hayes why he was the only player whom Landry allowed to call him Tom.

Hayes smiled and said, “Nine-one.”

He still wears his Super Bowl ring and NFC Championship ring. On the wall of his mother’s living room is a huge picture of him in his Cowboys stars–number 22. Elsewhere upon the walls are magazine covers featuring teammates Roger Staubach and Bob Lilly, and what constitutes almost a shrine to Landry. There is little evidence that Hayes ran track. The sport has forgotten Hayes, and that is particularly sad because he never wanted to leave it. “Believe me,” he says, “you would’ve never seen me in a Cowboys uniform if I could’ve made a living running.” He cocks his head and grins. “Why should I get beat up?”

It was also in football–not track–that Hayes encountered drugs. Although he is clean and sober now, and has served his time for trafficking in small amounts of cocaine and methaqualone, he remains tarnished goods. None of the sponsors who trade off Olympic glory, inviting former gold medalists to the Games to mingle with clients, invite Hayes. He was there only once, running.

“My mother was sitting with Jesse Owens and Mrs. Owens,” says Hayes, “and when I won I saw tears running down my mother’s face. And Jesse Owens–he was a real nice guy, a father figure to me–seeing him up there with my mother made me so proud. Then the Japanese emperor put the medal around my neck. It’s the greatest feeling. That flag is flying. They’re playing your national anthem. You realize you represent everyone in your country. Yes, some of them are bigots, and you might not want to represent them, but you do. You see, if you think any different, then you’re going to be like them, aren’t you?”

Bullet Bob sits back in his chair, his legs jiggling faster with the memories of a time when no one on God’s green earth could keep up with him.

GREENE WAS a high school football star, and he says that he, too, would have left sprinting for the gridiron if track hadn’t become at least quasi-pro. Now, just turned 27, he is convinced he can cut the record to 9.76. After all, Greene is positive he had that time made at the Olympic trials last year when he slowed in an early heat and cruised. Of course, maybe you can catch lightning in a bottle only once. Lewis long-jumped 30 feet at Indianapolis in 1982 but was called (inaccurately, it seems) for fouling. It didn’t bother him; he was sure he could do it again sometime. But he never came close.

Smith believes Greene can get the record down to 9.65, which would be shocking, except that Greene was stuck on 10.08 in 1997 until he put everything together and threw off a 9.86. “Fireworks started going off in my head,” he recalls. The impossible dream in sprinting is to sustain speed through all 45 strides. Sprinters reach their top speed in the middle third of the race, eating up more than 12 meters per second, before tailing off. Greene can maintain top speed longer, to about 80 meters out. “I have a gift,” he says.

“You can’t feel yourself slowing down,” Hayes says, “because everybody else is slowing down too.” Even Lewis, a slow starter who ran down opponents, was not really kicking at the end. He was only slowing up less than his rivals. The sprinter’s kick is illusory, like the rising fastball. The trick to reducing the record by anything more than another few hundredths of a second, then, is to find a way for a human to maintain speed for all 100 meters. Smith, the visionary, thinks it’s possible. “Everybody says you’re going to fall apart at the end, but why?” he asks. “Why does it have to be that way?”

Lewis is incredulous. “You do that, then you’re in the eights,” he cries out, wide-eyed.

Apart from reengineering genetics, what more can be done? Besides, at a certain point, each improvement upon the record will be less ado about almost nothing. It is one thing to cut the record from 10.2 to 10.1. But who will care if the World’s Fastest Human does the hundred in 9.744 instead of 9.745? Greene appears to have the perfect body, a wonderful attitude, excellent habits, the best coaching. Smith has never worked an athlete harder, but the only new substantive advice he could offer Greene this year was to make sure he kept his fingers straight out and not clinch his fists. “It can’t be that simple,” Greene says ingenuously, “can it?”

At the top rank, maybe it is. Running better is not like learning a new off-speed pitch or a complicated extra move in the paint. It’s genetics and guts and then one foot before the other. What more simple physical advice can there be? Maybe that’s why so many track coaches tend to sound so orotund. “Feeling running fast is better than thinking running fast,” Smith says. And: “I tell my runners that I’m more interested in how you’re looking and doing than in how fast you’re going.” And: “Get in and clean out the despair and keep the vision clean.” And: “Eat right. Sleep right. Dream correctly.” Dream correctly? “Of course.”

In addition, Smith always reminds Greene not to rush things. That sounds perverse in dealing with speed, but once a sprinter panics and rushes out of kilter, he can’t recover. Lewis believes that because his opponents believed it was so crucial to get out in front, they placed too much emphasis on the start. That idea, Lewis says, still damages the way many sprinters and their coaches prepare. Not Greene. “The one thing I’m capable of,” he says, “is patience. The one time I didn’t take my time was in the 200 trials last year against Michael Johnson. That’s when he’d said in the paper that I wasn’t ready, and I injured myself. But when I run fast, I run outside myself, and I’m not tired at the end.”

He and Smith were walking off the track after a workout in Athens in June, talking speed. What’s the difference between quick and fast? Smith started to pontificate on the subject, but Greene looked at him and shook his head, smiling. Smith shut up. Greene said, “It’s like this: Quick, I can win a race. Fast, I can do some damage.” Smith nodded. That took care of that. Greene smiled his little-boy smile and skipped a step.

Running fast is so elemental. Maybe it is all the more so for Greene, because like most of the World’s Fastest Humans, he is chasing only time. Perhaps that is why Hayes seems most fondly to remember that Olympic relay race, the one occasion when he actually had to beat somebody. Lewis cites the 1991 world championship in Tokyo as his best. He set the record at 9.86, but five others broke 10 seconds, and first Dennis Mitchell, then Burrell, then Lewis led the way. “That was a race,” he says, relishing the memory. “Records that you set in one day shouldn’t matter as much as they’ve come to. It’s like baseball: What wins games over a season is pitching. Someone like Greg Maddux doesn’t look that strong, but over a season…” Lewis let the thought hang for a moment, then finished with a flourish: “I had the best pitching.”

Still, how can we avoid being fascinated by the sheer fastest stuff, the damage? “Speed is uniquely American,” Masback says. “We have a reverence for speed. The trouble is that track is so objective that it may be hard to sustain someone’s interest after he’s broken a record. Everything else seems a comedown.”

Greene is lucky in one important respect. He is saved from being too self-absorbed because he is so involved with his team. HSI is even more sophisticated than the Santa Monica Track Club, which gave Lewis and Burrell the same sort of support and camaraderie. Hudson cannot even sign a new client unless a majority of the members votes for the nominee. HSI is as much club as team.

Greene frequently pauses in his workouts to help lesser HSI athletes. Andrew Miller, the hefty team trainer, watches Greene work with Christine Arron, a world-class sprinter, on her start. “Mo’s really a giving person,” Miller says in genuine admiration.

The World’s Fastest Human is a nice guy, just like many of the common people whom God made slower. At meets, he dashes about the infield, cheering on his teammates. He tutors young Bernard Williams, teaching Williams how to beat him someday, when it is time to pass the torch. At Athens, after meeting with the press following his own race, Greene hurried back near the finish line, where, with Boldon, he sat and waited to greet Arron and Torri Edwards after they had competed in the women’s 100–and console them if they lost.

Away from the track, Greene says, “I just chill out,” enjoying the same kind of activities that most millionaires his age engage in. He plays video games, drives a Mercedes with a license plate that reads MO GOLD and has the obligatory diamond earrings and tattoos we have come to expect from our young athletic stars. He does watch his diet, however, shunning the junk food he was inclined to eat before he fell under Smith’s aegis, and he has shown a creative bent in designing his own posters and a Mo Greene calendar, which can be found on his website (

He has a one-year-old daughter, Ryan Alexandria, from a past relationship. He visits Ryan often in Pasadena, across town from his house in a newer upper-middle-class suburb of Los Angeles, where the roads wind and the houses have Spanish-tile roofs. Inside, his house is dominated by a PlayStation, which his brother and a cousin are enjoying at the moment as Greene shows off his trophies and his website. With major artillery action on the PlayStation, it seems rather like Mo is living in a bowling alley, but he is unfazed.

“If people ask who is the greatest sprinter ever,” he calls out, over the din, “I want to show them a race that is so beautiful that people will remember it forever.”

John Smith says, “I want Mo to run into the horizon, if I may be metaphorical.”

One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine…and change–a little less change. But only if you dream correctly.

Section: 2004 Olympic Preview/Meet Team USA/Track & Field

ONE MO’ TIME His sport is a colossal mess, but the 2000 gold medalist is back in fine form, raring to prove he’s the best 100-meter runner ever

Here at last was the perfect race, unfolding beneath his feet. It was a summer night in Edmonton at the 2001 World Track and Field Championships, and Maurice Greene was hurtling toward some place divine. Already an Olympic gold medalist, twice a world champion, the reigning world-record holder and certain to be remembered as one of the best 100-meter runners in history, Greene had nailed his start, risen into a full sprint and now, 60 meters down the track, could feel that this was the race in which all the pieces would fall into place. “The winning time,” says Greene, “was going to be something that would be imprinted on people’s minds.”

Then came the pain in his left thigh, a twinge and then a stab. He hobbled sideways across the finish line, dragging his injured leg, barely in front of the fast-closing Tim Montgomery. Greene was again the world champion, and his time (9.82 seconds into a modest headwind) was then the third fastest in history. Still, the race felt to him like an opportunity lost.

Those were fast days for Greene, when speed came easy, like breathing fresh air. “Maurice and I used to joke about falling out of bed and running sub-9.90,” says Ato Boldon of Trinidad and Tobago, Greene’s longtime training partner with the Los Angeles-based HSI sprint group. “It was easy, and we took it for granted. It becomes part of who you are, and when it’s gone, it’s lonely.”

It seemed as though there would be another day for Greene, but instead there were three empty years. There was death in his family, the dissolution of a shoe company relationship that left him feeling unwanted, and a mysterious accident on a Los Angeles freeway that left him with a broken leg. There were plodding times and dark, funny lines; British sportswriters dubbed him Slo-Mo. Many track observers accepted that the Greene era in sprinting was over. Five years, plenty of battles, job well done. Exit, stage left.

Yet there was Greene on the second Sunday in July, 12 days shy of his 30th birthday, winning the 100 meters in 9.91 seconds at the U.S. Olympic Trials in Sacramento by outgunning brilliant young sprinters Justin Gatlin (9.92) and Shawn Crawford (9.93) in a thrilling blanket finish. Greene had been good all spring, but at the trials he strung together four superb rounds of 100s–“The best series of my life,” he said on the morning after the final–reestablishing himself as the best big-race sprinter in the world. He had screamed an obscenity after crossing the finish line. “I acted a fool out there for a minute,” he said. “But I had something to prove.”

A gold medal in Athens would solidify Greene’s claim to be the greatest 100-meter runner ever. Greene has four of the five fastest times in history, and he would join Carl Lewis (1984 and '88) as the only back-to-back Olympic 100 champs. Some voices already proclaim Greene the best, including his own: He has a tattoo on his right biceps that reads G.O.A.T., for Greatest of All Time. “In the 100 meters he is the greatest, hands down,” says Michael Johnson, who holds that same distinction–and the world records–at both 200 and 400 meters.

Defending his Olympic title will not be easy for Greene, however. If not for an ill-timed lean in Sacramento, Gatlin might have beaten him, and Crawford appears to have the best top-end speed in the world, though he has yet to piece together an entire race. “Maurice doesn’t make mistakes,” says Trevor Graham, who coaches Gatlin and Crawford.

Greene will be running in the vortex of the sport’s ongoing drug scandal, in a world where running fast is ever more likely to create suspicion. During the trials it was reported that three HSI athletes had tested positive for banned substances this spring: women’s world 100-meter champion Torri Edwards (who admitted taking a banned stimulant but claimed it was inadvertent; at week’s end track’s international governing body was considering whether or not to suspend her), sprinter Mickey Grimes (who reportedly tested positive for steroids; he has not commented) and one of Greene’s best friends, hurdler Larry Wade (also positive for steroids; his representatives say they plan to challenge the test result). Throughout his career Greene has repeatedly denied using performance-enhancing drugs. In Athens he will be asked to do so again.

Greene has been through more trying ordeals than that over the last three years. The injury suffered in Edmonton ended his season and sent him reeling into a miserable autumn and winter marked by tragedy. First came the death of his grandmother Elizabeth Greene, with whom he had stayed every afternoon after school in Kansas City, Kans., while waiting for his parents to get off work. Then two of his uncles died.

His breakup with Nike came soon thereafter. Greene had had an endorsement contract with the company since 1995 and was one of its highest-paid track and field athletes, but his deal ran out at the end of 2001. In negotiations for a new contract Greene and his manager, Emanuel Hudson, asked Nike for a raise, a series of three television commercials promoting Greene, and a shoe named after him that would be sold to the public. “We were close on the dollars,” says Greene. “But on the other two, Nike just said no. That’s it. No. I felt as if we had a better relationship than that, like family. It hurt.”

John Capriotti, global director of Nike running, says, “I’ve known Maurice since he was a little kid, but I can’t comment on this.”

Johnson, who was also aligned with Nike throughout his career, says, “Yes, Maurice is the best ever in the 100. But he’s not the kind of athlete who does something special, beyond the ordinary, like Marion Jones winning five medals in Sydney or me winning the 200 and 400 in Atlanta. He thinks he is, but he’s not.”

Hudson subsequently negotiated a lucrative deal with Adidas, but the switch in companies not only bruised Greene’s ego but also interrupted his considerable cash flow. While negotiating with Nike, he was preparing to break ground on a new house in Simi Valley, Calif. “The builder was asking for money every day,” says Greene. Ultimately, instead of building a new one, Greene bought a $2.4 million house in that same community.

A new shoe sponsor meant new custom shoes, and for nearly two years Greene ran in stylish Adidas spikes that, he says, hurt his feet and hindered his performance. “Now after working with Adidas for two years,” he says, “we’ve got a great shoe.”

It was in January 2002 that Greene says he was sideswiped by a minivan on the southbound 405 freeway while riding his new Suzuki 600-cc motorcycle to practice. The low-speed collision, according to Greene, caused a small fracture at the top of the fibula in his left leg. He didn’t publicly disclose the injury–or the crash–until two months ago, fearing that it would have weakened his negotiating position with Nike. In addition, says Greene, “I didn’t want to be making excuses if I ran slow.”

Greene did, in fact, run slowly, for two years. Every good race was followed by three poor ones. In September 2002 he was in the stands when Montgomery (who is facing a lifetime ban by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency for his alleged use of steroids and other drugs) broke Greene’s 1999 world record of 9.79 seconds by running 9.78 in Paris. Last summer at the worlds, also in Paris, the 5’9" Greene was eliminated in the semifinals, and he shut down for the year, fighting new pains in his right knee and slogging around at 190 pounds, 15 more than his ideal weight. He took nearly two months off, waiting for training to begin with HSI coach John Smith. But Greene started ahead of schedule, running with Wade on the sand along Venice Beach and up the stairs leading from the water to the Pacific Coast Highway in Santa Monica. “I didn’t feel any pain,” says Greene. “Then I knew I was going to be back.”

Smith, Greene’s coach since 1996, says, “I’ve seen Maurice grow up. He’s a mature person and a mature sprinter.” It is possible that Greene will never again be the dominant sprinter who won the Sydney gold medal by daylight and ran under 9.90 seconds nine times, which is more than any other runner in history. “That guy who crushed us all in Sydney, I don’t think he can show up again,” says Boldon. “I think he died in that motorcycle accident. But Maurice can still complete a race.”

In March, Greene blasted from the blocks in the 60 meters at the U.S. indoor championships, felt a twinge in his right hamstring and pulled up. Before the twinge he had run 40 meters, and they had felt as perfect as those first 60 in Edmonton had three years earlier. He ran to his coach, Smith, and said, excitedly, “Johhhhn… They can’t hold me anymore.” The hamstring healed, and Greene lost just once outdoors in 2004 before winning at the trials.

In Sacramento, in the painful two hours between the semifinals and the final of the 100, Smith approached Greene on the warmup track and warned him, “You’re getting close to something big here, and the last time that happened was Edmonton, and you rushed yourself and got hurt. Be patient. Take your time.”

In Athens that will not be easy. Greene feels himself close to something again. To another gold medal. To reclaiming his world record. To cleaning up unfinished business. “I was on a path to something unbelievable,” says Greene. “Now I’m on that path again.”

PHOTO (COLOR): Although he has been plagued by injuries and no longer holds the world record in the 100, the 30-year-old Greene won the U.S. trials and will be a favorite in Athens.

PHOTO (COLOR): Training partners Gaitlin and Crawford will challenge Greene in the 100.

Section: Track and Field/Olympics 2000

The world’s three greatest sprinters transformed the U.S. track and field trials into the Maurice, Michael and Marion Show

Late last Saturday, with the darkness of the Sacramento night filling a window behind him, Maurice Greene collapsed into a chair in his hotel suite. Around him the room was littered with water bottles, pieces of fruit and videotapes of his races, the detritus of an athlete leaving nothing to chance. On the inside of the door was a sign that Greene had made on his computer back in Los Angeles and printed in bold red ink: MAURICE GREENE, 2000 OLYMPIAN. It was the last thing he had seen before leaving his suite that afternoon to win the 100 meters at the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials. Now he stretched his thick legs as far as they would reach and raised his arms toward the ceiling. “U.S. Olympian,” he said, testing the title. “This is the best there is.”

Now he understands. They all understand. There is little in U.S. sports quite like the track and field trials, a quadrennial crucible that selects three people in each event and dashes the hopes of hundreds of others. The trials send the likes of Greene, Marion Jones and Michael Johnson to the outsized glory that awaits them at the Games. The eight days of competition identify precocious warriors like 21-year-old Stanford miler Gabe Jennings and reward the dogged spirit of runners like 1,500-meter qualifier Marla Runyan, who is not only gifted but also legally blind. Yet the trials also coldly dismiss Jeff Hartwig and Tisha Waller, the best men’s pole vaulter and women’s high jumper in America. They halt comebacks such as Jackie Joyner-Kersee’s without regard to past greatness, leaving her sixth in the long jump. The trials make people understand how precious it is to survive, to just make the team.

Four years ago, at the trials in Atlanta, Greene was eliminated in the quarterfinals of the 100. He was too young, too skinny and–with an injury to his right hamstring–too hurt. A month later he drove from his home in Kansas City, Kans., to Atlanta to see the Games. He cried as he sat in the stands watching Canada’s Donovan Bailey win the 100 in a world-record 9.84 seconds.

Greene moved to L.A., changed coaches, won two world titles and in June 1999 ran 9.79 to crush Bailey’s mark. But until last weekend he still was not an Olympian. After running a 9.93 for an easy victory in Friday’s opening round, Greene recovered from a wobbly start in Saturday’s final to overtake his training partner Jon Drummond and win in 10.01 seconds into a stiff headwind, dragging Drummond and another teammate, Curtis Johnson, onto the Olympic team with him. Greene cried again after the race, with Drummond, with coach John Smith, with his father, Ernest Greene, in a skybox overlooking the track. “It all started in '96,” said Ernest. “That’s when he understood how much it meant to him.”

Jones can relate. She was at the '96 Games too, sitting in the stands, a college basketball star at North Carolina watching her future husband, C.J. Hunter, compete in the shot put and seeing women she once had stomped win medals. “It was tough to watch,” said Jones, who’d been running only part time since '93 while concentrating on hoops. “It made me miss it.”

Her stirrings were even older than Greene’s. In 1992, Jones was a junior at Thousand Oaks High, north of Los Angeles, and one of the best high school sprinters in history. She went to the trials that summer in New Orleans and nearly made the team, finishing fifth in the 100 and fourth in the 200. She was invited to join the U.S. team for Barcelona as part of the relay pool, which would have all but guaranteed her a medal, but she declined. “When people come over to my house to see my gold medals, I want to be able to say I ran for them,” Jones says of her decision, the implication being that she probably would have run in the early relay rounds but not in the finals. Her gutsy step-aside has become a part of Mrs. Jones’s legend.

Yet the story may not be completely accurate. While there’s no doubting how Jones feels–she surely does want to be able to say that she earned her first gold medal (as well as the other four she hopes to bring home from Sydney)–her mother, Marion Toler, who raised Jones as a single parent, says Jones wanted to go to Barcelona as a relay alternate. It was Toler who said no. “We had an agreement that we made before the school year began,” said Toler last week in Sacramento. “There was a list of conditions that Marion had to meet, including grades, behavior, respect for her coaches. If she didn’t meet all these conditions, she wouldn’t be allowed to go to the Olympics, and she did not meet all of them. [Toler says that grades were a factor, though not the only one.] Before the trials I told her that if she finished in the top three, she could go, but if it was a relay situation, and there was some decision to be made, she would stay home. She was not happy. She wanted to go.”

The dream, then, was eight years old when Jones, now a two-time 100-meter world champion like Greene, swept down the track last Saturday, cutting a headwind in 10.88 seconds (her nonaltitude best is 10.70), far clear of Inger Miller (11.05) and Chryste Gaines (11.13). Past the finish she threw her arms into the air, feeling an even greater joy than she had expected.

Less than 24 hours later Jones earned a place on the U.S. team in the long jump with a performance that underscored her toughness. After fouling on her first two jumps, she needed a legal leap of at least 20’ 11 1/4" (her season’s best coming into the trials was 22’ 10 1/2") on her third attempt to advance to the final three jumps. Another foul, or anything short of that distance, and Jones was gone, along with her plans for five golds. Under enormous pressure, performing in a stadium packed to capacity of more than 23,000, Jones, an inartistic jumper at the best of times, survived on athleticism and desire, jumping 22’ 1 3/4" to move into fourth place. Two attempts later she went 23’ 1/2", her best jump in two years, and won the event. In the warmup area Michael Johnson watched on television. “Man, she cut it close,” he said, “but she’s a competitor. That’s what showed today.”

What Johnson showed on Sunday was his dominance of the 400 meters. He chose not to chase his year-old world record of 43.18 in gusty winds, yet he still ran a controlled 43.68 (a time bettered by only two other runners in history) to win by almost a second over Alvin Harrison. Eight years ago in New Orleans, after Johnson had earned his first Olympic berth, at 200 meters, he went back to his hotel room and jumped up and down on the bed shouting, “I made the Olympic team!” Though he’s had phenomenal success since then–he won gold medals in the 200 and 400 in Atlanta and holds world records in both events–his respect for making the Olympic team has not diminished.

“I didn’t jump up and down on my bed this time,” said Johnson on Sunday night, “but it’s still special. To everybody else, me making the team is a foregone conclusion, but I know things can go wrong.”

Just ask Hartwig. Ranked No. 2 in the world last year behind Maksim Tarasov of Russia, Hartwig, 32, came to Sacramento only a month after clearing a U.S. record 19’ 9 1/4", the highest vault in the world in 2000, yet last Friday night he failed in three attempts at his opening height of 18’ 2 1/2" and found himself out of the competition. He blamed his failure in part on Sacramento’s parched air, which he says caused his contact lenses to dry out and affected his depth perception. “I can’t put into words how bad I feel,” Hartwig said.

Runyan could have met an equally disappointing fate. She ran in the world championships 1,500 last summer and seemed likely to become the first legally blind athlete to make a U.S. Olympic team. But on June 9 she strained the iliotibial band (a tendon that runs from the hip to the knee) in her left leg and didn’t train for a month. She resumed running only six days before the trials, and her coach, Mike Manley, nudged her confidence by letting her do a series of 200-meter sprints to prove that her sharpness wasn’t gone. “She was supposed to do them in 31 seconds, but she ran 28s,” Manley said. On Sunday, Runyan ran third, five seconds behind the one-two finish of Regina Jacobs and Suzy Favor Hamilton–both of whom have a good shot at a medal in Sydney. Shortly afterward Runyan fell into the arms of boyfriend Matt Lonergan and told him, “I didn’t believe it could happen.”

The free-spirited Jennings, who was born on Steve Prefontaine’s birthday in 1979 and raised in a remote cabin in Northern California, didn’t just believe his 1,500-meter victory could happen. He knew it would, from the tears of joy he cried three hours before the race and from the life in his legs during a light morning run. “It’s my day,” he told Stanford coach Vin Lananna. Jennings took the lead with a burst more than 500 meters from the finish, running not only to the rhythm he hears in his head, but also to the drums and homemade percussion instruments being pounded in the stands by a ragtag group of supporters that included Jennings’s father, Jim, and mother, Suzanne.

Nine months ago, Jennings’s mere presence at the trials seemed a remote possibility. With his career stalled by injuries, Jennings began to question his motives and his goals. He couldn’t sleep. “He called me at four in the morning, and he was almost on the edge of something like a nervous breakdown,” says Jennings’s father, recalling a night late last fall. “He was questioning why he ran.”

Jim and Suzanne drove five hours from Mendocino, Calif., to Palo Alto to be with their son. “He needed to get everything off his chest, so he could celebrate running again,” says Jim. From that low point, Gabe rebounded. He won the NCAA 1,500 in June and on Sunday ran 3:35.90, a personal best by nearly two seconds. In Sydney he may need a similar improvement just to make the final against the best runners from Africa and Europe, but in Sacramento, there was no denying the strides he had already taken.

“I’ve enjoyed every race on every day this spring,” Jennings said outside the stadium on Sunday, surrounded by family and band. “Every day is a different rhythm.”

Expect a crash of cymbals this Sunday when Greene and Johnson meet in the 200-meter final. It’s a race that has been anticipated since Johnson was injured and had to pull out of the 1999 national championships in Eugene, sending Greene and his teammates on a mission to trash-talk him into oblivion. Greene has repeatedly accused Johnson of ducking him; Johnson has repeatedly called Greene “immature.”

They are dramatically different personalties. Greene is ebullient and emotional, 26 going on 19. Johnson, 32, is grimly confident and serious. The two haven’t had a conversation since early 1998, when they killed time during the shooting of a commercial by trading stories about mutual nemesis Bailey. Johnson holds the 200 world record of 19.32, set at the '96 Games; Greene’s best is 19.86. Last week both men simmered in anticipation of their showdown.

“I will win, period,” said Greene. “First, Michael Johnson is the world-record holder, but he hasn’t run anything close to that time in four years. Second, he’s not strong enough to finish with me in a sprint. He’ll have to be three or four steps in front coming off the curve or it’s over, and that’s not going to happen. It’ll be close, and Michael Johnson breaks his form and falls apart in close races. I never break form.”

These words were relayed to Johnson as he lay on a rubbing table in his hotel room on Sunday night. He nodded and his eyes widened. “That is exactly what Carl Lewis said about me in 1992 when I got lane 8 at the Olympic trials–that I would break,” he said. “I won that race. Break in close races? Tell Maurice to look at the '92 trials, or the '97 400-meter final at the world championships, when I was hurt and five meters down with 100 meters to go and won the race on experience and heart. He won’t feel so good about himself then.”

Johnson dropped his chin off the edge of the table as a therapist rubbed oil into his lower legs. This weekend the trials’ rules change. For two men in one race, just making the team will not be enough.