Coach can mix, match for U.S. 400 relay squad

ON THE OLYMPICS

Summer Olympics

September 03, 2000|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

There will be approximately 10,000 athletes at the Olympics, and the maneuvering for some of the final berths is getting desperate.

In the United States, the Greco-Roman wrestling team waffled for a month between Matt Lindland and Keith Sieracki at 167 1/2 pounds. They traded protests and injunctions, and on Friday a federal appeals court threw out Sieracki's claim, in effect awarding the berth to Lindland assuming the Supreme Court doesn't step in. In Australia, there is a prolonged fight over the identity of its third female triathlete.

No judge will have a say over the makeup of the U.S. men's 400-meter relay in track and field. There is plenty of intrigue, however, in an event that the Yanks used to own, but lately they've handled like the Boston Red Sox: Something always goes wrong.

The players involve a crusty U.S. coach and America's best sprinters, a group that includes Baltimore's Bernard Williams. A Carver High grad, Williams was seventh in the 100-meter dash at the U.S. trials. The casual fan assumes that the top four finishers from the trials 100 will be on the 400 relay, but there is a long history of American coaches tinkering with the relay lineup.

John Chaplin, the Washington State coach, said he will apply the "Lincoln Rule" to the U.S. men's relay teams.

"When President Lincoln had a Cabinet meeting and the vote was 7-1, the one vote carried it," Chaplin said at the U.S. trials in July. "I'm Mr. Lincoln. In the end, I'll decide it."

Short of benching world-record holder Maurice Greene, Chaplin has precedent to do whatever he wants to restore American dignity to the event, which the U.S. has won just once since 1984.

In 1936, the Americans planned to run Marty Glickman and Sam Stoller, but bowed to Nazi pressure and pulled the two Jewish sprinters. It didn't hurt U.S. chances any that the move opened a spot for Jesse Owens.

Only once since 1968 have the top four men from the U.S. trials 100 combined in the Olympic 400 relay final. In both 1972 and '76, the U.S. used a 200 runner who didn't even run the 100 at the trials. In 1992, Carl Lewis was sixth at the trials 100, but ran in the Olympic 400 relay final.

Enter Williams, the latest addition to the elite corps of sprinters who run under the HSI umbrella, the Los Angeles group which is headed by agent Emanuel Hudson and coach John Smith. When Williams announced his intention to turn pro after the trials 100 and join HSI, he transformed into a more confident, relaxed sprinter.

It is not a stretch to argue that Williams is the heir apparent to Greene, the two-time world champion who last year lowered the world record to 9.79 seconds.

The HSI star took a final Olympic tuneup in 9.86 in Berlin Friday. He'll lead an American 100 contingent Down Under that includes HSI teammates Curtis Johnson and Jon Drummond, who were second and third, respectively, at the U.S. trials. Williams was fourth in Berlin, then joined his three HSI teammates in the 400 relay for the second time last week. Their time in Berlin was 37.65, the sixth-fastest ever and the quickest ever outside the Olympics and world championships.

HSI is a power broker in the sport. The group wanted the world record in the event, and it would love to dominate the Olympic 400 relay.

Chaplin will maintain his independence, and oversee a number of scenarios.

One has Greene sitting out the first round or semifinals, which would allow someone else to run one race and medal. Brian Lewis and Tim Montgomery were fourth and sixth, respectively, at the trials, and teamed with Greene and Drummond at last year's world championships. Johnson's runner-up finish at the trials was something of a fluke, and he could be bumped.

There's also the possibility that Chaplin could look at the steady show put on by HSI last week, and go with that group's foursome.

Williams would be the rookie in any quartet, but the NCAA 100 champ was slick enough with a baton to run the second leg for Florida in the spring.

After the meet in Berlin, Hudson replied to an e-mail with a message that said his only assumption regarding the 400 relay is that "Maurice [Greene] is secure." John Tabor, the Columbia-based coach who has been Williams' mentor, spoke to him before the Berlin meet, and sounded more positive.

"He [Williams] told me he's on the team," Tabor said. "He said he's feels he's got a good shot to run in the final."

Fit Zeiger

Joanna Zeiger headed to Australia last Thursday on a high. The Johns Hopkins School of Public Health doctoral student claimed her first national triathlon title last Sunday.

She was second at the Mrs. T's Triathlon in Chicago, which was designated the national pro championship. Zeiger was only 19 seconds behind Australian Michelle Jones, who is considered the greatest female triathlete ever.

If the Americans have a medal threat in Sydney Harbor, it appears to be Zeiger.

Briefly

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