Facing field of blurs, he's staying focused

A world championships bronze medal in 2001 validatedBernard 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 higherplace on the Stade de France podium when he takes to the track at track andfield's ninth world championships today.

Preliminary and quarterfinal rounds of the race to determine "the world'sfastest human" will take place today. The semifinals and final will betomorrow.

If everything goes the way he has envisioned it for months - since heoutlegged 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 emergedfrom 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 in10 seconds or better this year]. I know that. But I can't be concerned withany of them. This is pretty big. This is my opportunity."

Some other very fast men have been saying similar things this week. PatrickJohnson of Australia heads the 2003 world list at 9.93 seconds.

In an "official" biography, the International Association of AthleticsFederation reports Johnson is "the first sub-10 performer not of African,Caribbean or Afro-American descent," giving this son of an Aboriginal motherand a father of Irish descent a big chunk of the media spotlight.

Also under 10 seconds this year have been Williams' U.S. teammate, MauriceGreene, 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 itwith his 9.78 on this same Stade de France track last September; Nigeria'sDeji Aliu; and Kim Collins, the former Texas Christian athlete who representsthe 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 a9.99 this season. Not far back of that pace are veteran Frankie Fredericks ofNamibia 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 thatmatters is being world champion, period. Nothing else matters."

Williams' 2003 best is 10.05, but he knows well that race times tell just asmall part of the sprinting story. The factors that come into play for anyrace are many and varied.

And Williams - whose all-time best of 9.94 was recorded running thirdbehind Greene and Montgomery at the 2001 worlds in Edmonton, Alberta - has atleast 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. Secondis 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 verycomfortable on it," Williams said. "Tell you the truth, it's very exciting tobe running here again."

If there's a single cloud in Williams' outlook, it's "the very slighthamstring 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."

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