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Facing field of blurs, he's staying focused
A world championships bronze medal in 2001 validated Bernard Williams' talent, but he wants something more.
Baltimore's Williams, the Carver High School graduate who is the U.S. national champion in the 100 meters, will be intent on occupying a higher place on the Stade de France podium when he takes to the track at track and field's ninth world championships today.
Preliminary and quarterfinal rounds of the race to determine "the world's fastest human" will take place today. The semifinals and final will be tomorrow.
If everything goes the way he has envisioned it for months - since he outlegged world-record-holder Tim Montgomery in the U.S. nationals at Stanford - Williams, 25, will be in the thick of the chase for the gold medal and the $60,000 check that goes with the glory.
"I expect big things. I'm ready to do it," Williams said after he emerged from an ice bath at Team USA training headquarters yesterday.
"I'm up against a lot of great athletes [five of them have run the 100 in 10 seconds or better this year]. I know that. But I can't be concerned with any of them. This is pretty big. This is my opportunity."
Some other very fast men have been saying similar things this week. Patrick Johnson of Australia heads the 2003 world list at 9.93 seconds.
In an "official" biography, the International Association of Athletics Federation reports Johnson is "the first sub-10 performer not of African, Caribbean or Afro-American descent," giving this son of an Aboriginal mother and a father of Irish descent a big chunk of the media spotlight.
Also under 10 seconds this year have been Williams' U.S. teammate, Maurice Greene, the three-time defending world champion who held the world record (9.79 in Athens, Greece, in 1999) until Montgomery took a sliver out of it with his 9.78 on this same Stade de France track last September; Nigeria's Deji Aliu; and Kim Collins, the former Texas Christian athlete who represents the tiny Caribbean nation of St. Kitts and Nevis.
Behind Johnson's 9.93, Greene has posted a 9.94, Aliu a 9.98 and Collins a 9.99 this season. Not far back of that pace are veteran Frankie Fredericks of Namibia at 10 flat and Canada's Nicolas Macrozonaris at 10.03.
Some analysts have been calling Greene over the hill this summer.
"When I hear that, I laugh," Greene said last week. "The only thing that matters is being world champion, period. Nothing else matters."
Williams' 2003 best is 10.05, but he knows well that race times tell just a small part of the sprinting story. The factors that come into play for any race are many and varied.
And Williams - whose all-time best of 9.94 was recorded running third behind Greene and Montgomery at the 2001 worlds in Edmonton, Alberta - has at least two things in his favor.
First is that U.S. title - he ran 10.11 at Stanford to shock Montgomery (10.15) and relegate two-time Olympian Jon Drummond (10.18) to third. Second is his victory here in the Gaz de France meet on this track last month.
"It's a great track. I think I know it pretty well by now. I'm very comfortable on it," Williams said. "Tell you the truth, it's very exciting to be running here again."
If there's a single cloud in Williams' outlook, it's "the very slight hamstring twinge" he felt at the Weltklasse meet Aug. 15 in Zurich, Switzerland.
"But that's behind me now," he said. "The leg's 100 percent. I'm ready."