Back on Track
Four U.S. sprinters are running to atone for their victory antics
This is an article from the March 19, 2001 issue
Last September at the Sydney Olympics, Jon Drummond, Bernard
Williams, Brian Lewis and Maurice Greene teamed up to win the
4x100-meter relay, reclaiming gold for the U.S. in the race that
American teams had--through disharmony, inept baton passing and
occasional slow running--failed to win in two of the three
previous Games and two of the past three world championships. The
foursome will be remembered, however, at least as much for its
notorious victory lap, during which the sprinters played to the
crowd by climbing on stadium railings, removing their shirts and
posing like bodybuilders and, most controversial, wearing U.S.
flags as capes and turbans. The runners were painted as
emblematic of the spoiled, insensitive young athlete so reviled
by fans in all sports.
Six months later the sprinters remain unanimous in their
insistence that they intended no disrespect in Sydney. "We were
happy, we were excited," says Drummond. "When I saw the tape, I
realized it was offensive. But we meant no harm."
Mainly the runners were expressing their relief at having
overcome the politics that have led to other U.S. relay
disasters. The foursome, which would have been blasted had it not
brought home a gold, was put together only 48 hours before the
final, after months of bickering among coaches, runners and USA
Track & Field officials. "Two days to get through all that drama,
then take on the world," says Williams. "Two days!"
Moreover, the runners were encouraged in their antics, a fact
that was missed by TV viewers. "The fans were yelling, 'More,
more,' and photographers were shouting for more poses," says
As for the flags, the runners were trying to carry three or four
at once and say they were attempting to prevent desecration, not
promote it. "The whole time, I'm yelling, 'Don't let the flag
touch the ground!'" says Lewis. Greene says, "I know people died
for that flag. I love the flag, and I love my country."
It's possible that the foursome will get another chance to
celebrate, at the world championships in Edmonton in August.
Greene, 26, equaled his indoor world record for 60 meters (6.39
seconds) on March 3 and is shooting to lower his 100-meter mark
of 9.79 while defending his 100 and 200 titles at the worlds.
Drummond, 32, was talked out of retiring by 1984 Olympic champion
Evelyn Ashford, who convinced him that he still has some tread on
his tires. Williams, 23, passed up his final year of eligibility
at Florida and is training with Greene and Drummond in Los
Angeles. Lewis, 26, continues to train with coach Steve Riddick
The sprinters can only hope that the world will finally put the
Olympic controversy into perspective. They've been vilified
enough. It's time to consider a pardon for the Sydney Four.
Pan Am Games Travails
A Little Help From Havana
Hamstrung by an impossibly tight budget, organizers of the 2003
Pan Am Games, scheduled for August of that year in Santo Domingo,
Dominican Republic, have enlisted outside aid to help them
modernize venues, update technology and improve medical
facilities. The help is coming from an unlikely source: Cuba. The
Cubans have offered the use of a drug-testing lab in Havana, and
two weeks ago Cuban vice president Jose Ramon Fernandez, director
of the country's Olympic committee, agreed to send 30 consultants
to Santo Domingo to give locals a chance to pull off a modest but
successful Games--much like the ones Havana staged in 1991. The
Dominican government told organizers to keep the budget to $30
million. (Winnipeg spent $100 million to host the '99 Pan Ams.)
"These will not be an extravagant Games," says Fernandez, "but if
a small, poor country wants to organize them, we'd like to help."
Sprinting to the NFL
Off Track for Good?
John Capel can't be accused of taking the easy road in abandoning
his track career to play football. As the U.S. 200-meter champion
and the 10th-fastest man in history at the distance, Capel, a
22-year-old former wide receiver at Florida, could earn a
mid-six-figure income from a shoe-company contract and European
races. Instead, he gave up his final two years of football
eligibility and made himself available for the April 21-22 NFL
The 5'11", 180-pound Capel played only two seasons with the
Gators and caught just nine passes. On Feb. 25 at the NFL
scouting combine, Capel ran the 40 in roughly 4.4 seconds,
mediocre for him, but he impressed scouts with his routes and
soft hands. He will get a chance to play but will have much to
prove in training camp. "Football has always been my first love,"
It's clear, though, that he hasn't completely left track behind.
Last year Capel won the Olympic trials 200 when both Maurice
Greene and Michael Johnson pulled up with injuries. "Maurice
wasn't going to beat me that day, and he still can't beat me,"
As another sprinter said of Capel last week, "He'll be back."