Maurice Greene released a shriek of joy and pointed to the tattoo on his right biceps, a stylized lion whose mane shelters the letters GOAT, for Greatest of All Time. It was his only redundant move of the day. His 9.91-second victory Sunday in the 100-meter dash at the Olympic trials had certified his place among the most resilient and intriguing champions this troubled sport has seen, no matter the illustration on his body.
Arms churning and face fixed in a mask of concentration, Greene overcame a slow start to pass Justin Gatlin and Shawn Crawford and earn the right to defend the gold medal he’d won at Sydney. Forgotten were the woes he faced in between, including a broken left leg two years ago and the loss of his world record to Tim Montgomery.
Etched indelibly in the memory of Gatlin, who finished in 9.92 seconds, Crawford, whose lean brought him to the finish line in 9.93, and the 22,107 fans at Sacramento State’s Hornet Stadium was the image of a dramatic race that, to Greene, had only one possible outcome.
“I don’t think about second or third place,” he said, and with good reason. He added to his resume the 47th wind-legal sub-10-second time of his career -- next are Ato Boldon’s 28 and Frankie Fredericks’ 27 -- and sent Montgomery off in a huff, a sluggish seventh and facing a lifetime ban from the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency for alleged doping violations.
“I knew it was going to take everything I have,” Greene said. “I ran a pretty good race today. They ran good. When you get to the finals, anything is possible.”
For Greene it seems to be. He didn’t even lunge at the finish in setting an Olympic trials record. “I don’t have to,” he said. “I think when you lean you slow down.”
Greene, who will be 30 in 11 days, isn’t easing up. Nor does he plan to halt his habit of exuberant celebrations, such as Sunday’s or the one at the Home Depot Invitational in Carson two months ago, when he arranged for hurdler Larry Wade to bring out a fire extinguisher and cool his burning feet after Greene ran a wind-aided 9.86.
“He does not know how to be the quiet and shy type,” his agent, Emanuel Hudson, said with a smile.
Greene declined to discuss the doping mess enveloping the sport but vowed to “keep going out and running fast” and shift the media’s attention to “something positive.” He also guaranteed the U.S. 400 relay team will prevail in Athens, “if the stick is around.”
To Gatlin, who trains in Raleigh, N.C., with Crawford under Trevor Graham -- the former coach of Montgomery and Marion Jones -- Greene and Crawford were inspirational.
“Whatever he can do, I can do,” Gatlin said of Crawford, “and Maurice Greene goes out and doesn’t focus on anybody but himself, and I want to be just like that.
“Right now, we have the three best sprinters in the U.S. representing us.”
At that, Greene chimed in. “The best in the world,” he said.
If Greene represented a holdover of track’s old guard, NCAA champion Sheena Johnson of UCLA carried a beacon of youth in winning the 400 hurdles in 52.95, the best in the world this season and fourth-fastest ever.
Capitalizing on Lashinda Demus’ stumble on the ninth hurdle, Johnson used her flat-racing speed to regain the lead she’d lost at the third hurdle. Brenda Taylor, 25, was second in 53.36, followed by Demus, of the University of South Carolina, who had a personal-best 53.43.
“This is starting to be my favorite track,” said Johnson, a Stafford, Va., native who won her first NCAA title here last year, also out of Lane 6. “I knew today we were going to run really fast and I’d need a [personal record] to make the team.”
Johnson, who completed her athletic eligibility but hasn’t quite earned her degree in cognitive sciences, was a triple jumper in high school and ran the 300-meter hurdles before that distance was eliminated. Her speed makes her an ideal candidate to run on the 1,600 relay, which hasn’t escaped the notice of U.S. women’s Olympic Coach Sue Humphrey.
“She’s an excellent flat sprinter,” Humphrey said. “It’s exciting this early to see a time like this, so early.... The young stars are coming up. It’s a changing of the guard.”
Johnson’s mother, Jeanie, cried happily beyond the fence that separated athletes from spectators, but Johnson never stopped beaming as she thought of realizing the dream she’d cherished since she took up the sport. When she thinks of the Olympics, “I think of flags and all that,” she said. Now, she will march into the Athens stadium behind one.
In other finals: James Carter overtook Sydney 400-meter hurdles gold medalist Angelo Taylor to win in a world-best 47.68 seconds. Taylor clocked 48.03, ahead of Bennie Brazell’s 48.05. Dwight Phillips won the men’s long jump at 27 feet 2 inches, the worst trials-winning effort since 1980. Tiombe Hurd of Upper Marlboro, Md., won the women’s triple jump at 47-5 (14.45 meters), setting a U.S. record and meeting the Olympic “A” standard of 14.20 meters. Hurd, who’s legally blind but competes with the aid of special contact lenses, is assured of an Olympic berth though her jump was tied for the 38th-best in the world this season. Kim Kreiner won the women’s javelin throw, but was the only one to reach the “A” standard and might be the only U.S. representative in the event.
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Sunday’s FinalsTop three qualify for the U.S. Olympic team:
*--* MEN 100 METERS 1. Maurice Greene, 9.91 2. Justin Gatlin, 9.92 3. Shawn Crawford, 9.93 400 HURDLES 1. James Carter, 47.68 2. Angelo Taylor, 48.03 3. Bennie Brazell, 48.05 LONG JUMP 1. Dwight Phillips, 27 feet 2 inches 2. Tony Allmond, 26-7 3. John Moffitt, 26-5 3/4 POLE VAULT 1. Timothy Mack, 19-4 1/2 2. Toby Stevenson, 19-2 1/4 3. Derek Miles, 19-0 1/4 WOMEN 400 HURDLES 1. Sheena Johnson, 52.95 2. Brenda Taylor, 53.36 3. Lashinda Demus, 53.43 TRIPLE JUMP 1. Tiombe Hurd, 47-5 2. Shakeema Walker, 46-1 1/2 3. Vanitta Kinard, 45-0 1/2 JAVELIN 1. Kim Kreiner, 182-7 2. Sarah Malone, 177-11 3. Denise O’Connell, 177-4