The night Greene put even Lewis in the shade

by NEIL WILSON, Daily Mail

Maurice Greene woke yesterday in his downtown Edmonton hotel, a gold medal on the table, a pain in his thigh - and only one thought in his head: mission accomplished.

The night before, Greene had limped into history with his third consecutive World Championships 100metres victory - a feat matched only by Carl Lewis.

On the morning after, he announced that his thigh injury would stop him defending his 200m title or running in the 4x100m relay, and then reflected on the difference five years has made to American sprinters.

In 1996, Greene sat frustrated among the disappointed American crowd in the Olympic Stadium in Atlanta and watched his fellow-countrymen fail to win a medal in the 100m. He promised himself that it would not happen again as long as he could run.

Those were the darkest days for the Americans in the event they regarded as their own private domain.

Before the failure at their own Olympics, they had been beaten for 100m gold by Britain's Linford Christie in the 1993 World Championships at Stuttgart and won no medals at all when Canada's Donovan Bailey triumphed at Gothenburg in 1995.

Greene said: 'After Atlanta, I wanted to bring the U.S. back to the top and put them where they should be. I believe we have achieved that here. We have got the top three. What more can you ask?'

Lewis won his world titles at Helsinki in 1983, Rome in 1987 and Tokyo in 1991, before Greene had even arrived in Los Angeles to ask the assistant track coach at UCLA John Smith to train him. But is Lewis greater than Greene?

As an all-round athlete, Lewis's reputation is unassailable. He won titles at 100m and 200m plus relays and the long jump. He won nine Olympic golds - four of them at Los Angeles in 1984 - and a total of eight world titles.

But at 100m, the balance is tilting towards Greene.

At 27, Greene has run inside 10sec without wind assistance 39 times. Lewis managed it 10 times and ran inside 9.90sec only once, when he broke the world record. Indeed, only 10 men have ever broken 9.90sec - but Greene has managed it no fewer than 15 times.

He won his gold medal on Sunday in 9.82sec, the third fastest time in history and bettered only by Greene himself.

Remarkably, there was a slight headwind and the videos showed that for the last six or seven strides he was struggling with the thigh injury that could keep him out of action for the rest of the season.

What would the clock have read if he had raced for 100m rather than just 80? 'Man, I'll say 9.62,' he joked at his Press conference.

He added: 'Truthfully, though, I'll say I could have run about 9.77. But it's just speculation. I'll take what the clock gives me.'

Smith, his coach who was celebrating his 51st birthday, had predicted privately that Greene would break the world record by 0.02sec. 'But if you are going to write it, say 9.78. There's enough pressure already,' he said.

He knew Greene's left leg was not 100 per cent. Tendinitis had been affecting the knee for weeks before he went to Edmonton. But Smith also knew how much a third title meant to Greene.

As Greene said: 'No-one is going to give you the gold. You have to come out and fight for it, and even be willing to die for it.

'I'm just thankful I was able to finish the race the way I did.

'Fifteen metres out, I felt a pinch in my thigh. I told myself: "This is not going to stop me". After that, I felt something in the hamstring and I thought: "I am not going to let that stop me either". When I am in a race like that, I practically have to kill myself before I stop.'

Greene is anxious to take nothing away from Lewis's achievements. He respects and admires him and said: 'He is a great athlete. For me to equal something that he has done is good for me.

'But I wanted to be known as the greatest 100m runner ever. Maybe my name will start getting mentioned now alongside Lewis's but only time will tell.'

Greene, of course, should still be around for the 2003 championships in Paris. That could settle the argument.

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