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KC Olympic glory: Greene grabs gold

DATE OF EVENT: Saturday, Sept. 23, 2000

DATE PUBLISHED: Sunday, Sept. 24, 2000, in The Kansas City Star

Editor’s note: Kansas City, Kan., native Maurice Greene, already the world record holder for the 100-meter dash, won his Olympic gold medal at the Sydney Olympics in 2000. He went on to anchor the U.S. 400-meter relay team, which won the gold a few days later.

SYDNEY, Australia –– It is 9:15 p.m. Saturday in Olympic Stadium when Maurice Greene of Kansas City, Kan., first steps onto the raised middle cylinder of the Olympic medal podium. In his boyhood home half a world away, it is 5:15 a.m.

Here, in front of a crowd of more than 110,000, Greene seems uncomfortable after winning the men’s 100-meter dash in 9.87 seconds at the 2000 Olympics.

In moments, Juan Antonio Samaranch, head of the International Olympic Committee, will take a blue sash with a gold medal hanging from it and drape it around Greene’s neck.

As silver medalist Ato Boldon, his close friend, watches, Greene seems to be fighting his ever-widening smile.

“Actually, I was trying not to cry,” Greene said. “When I get nervous, my tongue comes out. Sometimes I start biting my lip. Ato was back of me going: ‘Don’t cry. Not yet, not yet.’  ”

Soon after, the tears welled and fell. Greene is the world record holder, in 9.79 seconds. But this Olympic gold medal means more.

Canadian Donovan Bailey, who won the 100 meters four years ago in Atlanta, had said of Greene: “He has the world record, and he has the world championship. But he really needs the Olympic medal to be a member of the club.”

Greene takes that as the compliment Bailey intended it to be.

“I just thank him for that,” Greene said.

To some, Greene is the salvation of American men’s sprinting. Not since Carl Lewis in the 1984 Los Angeles Games has an American man crossed the finish line first in an Olympic 100 meters.

Lewis got the gold in the 1988 Seoul Games, too, but that came after a positive drug test invalidated Canadian Ben Johnson’s victory. Great Britain’s Linford Christie won the gold in the 1992 Barcelona Games.

Four years ago at the Atlanta Games, Greene cried after he failed to qualify for the U.S. Olympic team and watched Bailey take the gold to Canada.

But when the tears flowed in Sydney, they were completely different.

“In Atlanta, there were tears of sadness,” Greene said. “But tonight there were tears of joy, tears of just thanking God that it was all over with.”

Yes, there was relief for the man who said his sprinting career would be a failure if he did not win the gold in Sydney. …

In Saturday night’s second semifinal, Greene started slowly. He was in fourth place early in the race but came on to qualify No. 1 with a time of 10.04 seconds.

American Curtis Johnson, who didn’t qualify for the eight-man final, ticked off the names of Boldon, U.S. veteran Jon Drummond and Obadele Thompson of Barbados as possibly being able to beat Greene. In the past year, Greene had lost four times.

Thompson ended up with the bronze; Drummond finished fifth. And afterward, Trinidad and Tobago’s Boldon, second with a time of 9.99 seconds, simply said of Greene: “He destroyed us.”

Greene got a good laugh out of Boldon’s comment. But then he turned serious.

“One of the reasons I put so much pressure on myself is because my coach (John Smith), who I felt should have gotten the gold medal in the Olympics he was in, never did,” Greene said. “I know he has a big hole in his heart. I know I can’t fill that hole that he has. But hopefully I can put a little back in there for him.”

Then it was 10:15 p.m. in Sydney, 6:15 a.m. back in Kansas City. Greene had long since thrown his star-bedecked red, white and blue sprint shoes into the stadium stands.

“We owe the fans a lot who come out here to pack the stadium in the morning, and tonight for the final race,” he said. “So I gave them the best I could, and I gave them a little souvenir, also. My shoes.”

Ultimately, what Greene gave was his all. And for that, they gave him a gold medal.