Despite another disappointing finish, Maurice Greene says he's
still the man to beat in the 100--but is he?
Is Maurice Greene done?
That's the uncomfortable question facing one of history's
greatest sprinters after a disappointing 2002 season and an even
shakier start to 2003. Last year Greene, 28, lost three straight
times to U.S. rival Tim Montgomery, who ran 9.78 seconds to break
Greene's 100-meter world record by .01. The whispers got louder
last Saturday when Greene finished third (10.33) in a
Montgomery-less 100 field at the Adidas Oregon Track Classic
outside Portland. "There're a lot of people saying I'm on the
downside, that I'm done," Greene acknowledged the day before the
meet. "But I know what I can do. It's my job to prove those
Alas, thanks to the ever-raging shoe-company wars, Greene won't
get the chance against the 28-year-old Montgomery at this
Saturday's Nike Prefontaine Classic in Eugene, Ore. In a sport
that's struggling for attention, the world's two preeminent male
sprinters will have competed in elite meets only 123 miles and
seven days apart--but not against each other. The reason? After
spending eight years with Nike, Greene signed a $1 million-a-year
deal with Adidas last May.
His less-than-amicable divorce from the Swoosh ensured that he
wouldn't be invited to the company's Prefontaine meet.
(Montgomery, similarly, was not invited to the Adidas meet.) "I
felt betrayed," says Greene of his treatment by Nike, which
refused his request for a signature shoe while creating one for
Bob Kennedy (the world's top-ranked 5,000-meter runner in 2001).
"I've done a lot of things for that company, but it was as if
they didn't appreciate anything I had done. That really hurt."
Responds Nike rep Beth Hegde, "It's unfortunate that Maurice
feels that way. We wish him well, but we're psyched to have Tim
Montgomery, who's just coming into his prime."
Greene attributes his struggles last season--his worst year since
1997--to the stress resulting from the deaths of a grandmother
and an uncle, and his shoe-company switch. With all that behind
him, he says he's encouraged by his training this spring,
notwithstanding last Saturday's 100, in which he made like Mo
Lasses coming out of the blocks and couldn't overcome winner Kim
Collins of St. Kitts and Nevis (10.21). "No excuses," Greene said
afterward. "Just gotta get the cobwebs out."
There's still time, of course. Greene may not race Montgomery
until the European season begins in June, and perhaps not until
August, at the world championships in Paris. (As the defending
world 100-meter champ, Greene won't need to qualify at next
month's U.S. nationals.) For now, regrettably, Greene will battle
Montgomery through the media instead of on the track.
Greene still contends that he's the world's fastest human,
pointing to his 100-meter victories at the last three world
championships and the 2000 Sydney Olympics. "Titles are what make
you the world's fastest man," he says. "A lot of people can run a
time, but can a person go through everything it takes to win the
world or Olympic titles? I've done that time and time again.
Until you take my titles away from me, I don't think you've
earned [the crown]."
John Capel's Return
Goodbye, Pro Football; Hello, Fellow Sprinters
Remember former Florida sprinter and wide receiver John Capel?
After winning the 200 meters at the U.S. Olympic Trials in
2000--and stumbling to eighth in the Sydney Games--he left
college early for the NFL and was picked in the seventh round of
the 2001 draft by the Chicago Bears. Instead of thriving as a
wideout, though, Capel made his mark as a spliff end. In short
order he tested positive for marijuana at the draft combine; had
the only unexcused absence from the NFL's rookie symposium; and,
after several run-ins with Bears management, was released before
training camp even started.
Fast forward to last Saturday at the Adidas, when Capel--running
in his first outdoor meet since the Olympics--finished second as
a late entry in the 100 (.05 seconds ahead of Greene) and cut
through the rain to win the 200 in 20.38, upsetting Great
Britain's Dwain Chambers (who took sixth in 21.20). Capel's
return to the track, he says, was sealed by a conversation with
Chiefs coach Dick Vermeil, who cut him from Kansas City's
practice squad in August 2002. "He told me about how many other
guys he's seen who had my talent but pissed it all away because
of their attitude," says Capel, 24. "So I took a hard look at
myself: Am I really that big of a butt head to make people not
want to be around me? And I was. I've still got a long way to go,
but I've matured a lot."
Now married with a baby daughter, Capel is back in Gainesville
training under his former college coach Mike Holloway. "He's a
changed man," Holloway says. "John's work ethic is better, his
attitude is better, and he's more humble now. Football taught him
a lesson: Nothing is guaranteed just because you're fast."
It's something Capel remembered three months ago when he was
selected in the NFL Europe draft by the Scottish Claymores. "I
tried football and it didn't work out, so I need to do what I do
best," he says. "My place is on the track right now." After
Capel's triumphant return last week, nobody would disagree.
Don't look now, but the shot put is suddenly a trendy event, and
its new star is 35-year-old Kevin Toth. Buoyed by the world
dominance of Toth and two other Yanks--Adam Nelson and John
Godina--organizers at the Adidas meet amped up the shot, halting
other events while it was under way and seating spectators so
close to the action that they had to dodge the gravel that
sprayed when the 16-pound metal ball landed.
It was rollicking stuff. Surrounded by a boisterous, rhythmically
clapping SRO crowd at the Adidas meet, Toth unspooled a toss of
69'7", good enough to win but nowhere near his 74'4 1/2" heave at
last month's Kansas Relays--the longest in the world since 1990.
Toth is an 11-year veteran whose previous best was 72'9 3/4" and
who has never qualified for the Olympics in three tries. He
credits his rebirth to his new coach, Mike Mielke, who since last
October has overhauled Toth's training regimen and gotten Toth to
squat lower at the start of his throws to draw more power from
"Kevin was really a powerlifter who threw the shot," Mielke says.
"He needed to be an agile athlete, so we put an emphasis on
flexibility and cardiovascular fitness. To learn a motor skill
like this, you have to have the endurance for thousands of reps."
The genial Toth is delighted with the results. "I did everything
on my own for so long," he says. "It's been 11 years, and I want
something to show for this damn sport."
On Your Marks
The fastest 100 in the world this year belongs to Patrick
Johnson, a late-blooming 30-year-old Australian of
half-Aboriginal, half-Irish ancestry who ran 9.93 seconds on May
5 in Japan. Johnson is the first man from Oceania or Asia to
break 10 seconds.... More evidence of the shoe wars: Organizers
at last week's Adidas meet, which was held just 20 miles from
Nike's headquarters, made sure to announce that two
performances--a 14:59.88 in the women's 5,000 by Meseret Defar of
Kenya and a 3:34.13 in the men's 1,500 by Bernard Lagat, another
Kenyan--were "the fastest times ever run in the state of Oregon."
... The Prefontaine Classic (to be shown on tape delay by NBC at
2 p.m. ET on Sunday) should be the premier U.S. meet of the year,
featuring such headliners as the U.S.'s Tim Montgomery (men's
100) and Suzy Favor Hamilton (women's 1,500), Australia's Cathy
Freeman (women's 400), Lagat (men's mile) and Mozambique's Maria
Mutola (women's 800).