Gatlin pulls fast one

American stuns formidable field in closest 100 finish since 1980

For 1st time, five finish below 10 seconds

Athens Olympics

August 23, 2004|By Randy Harvey | Randy Harvey,SUN STAFF

ATHENS - Maurice Greene, who has proclaimed himself GOAT (greatest of all time), was in the race. So was Jamaica's Asafa Powell, whom others have proclaimed as the next GOAT. And so was Shawn Crawford, who calls himself Cheetah Man. Appearing on the Man vs. Beast television show, he once outran a giraffe but lost to a zebra.

Among others in the race was Justin Gatlin.

What can you call him?

How about Olympic champion?

One of the least celebrated finalists in the Olympic 100 meters last night did most of the celebrating afterward. His time of 9.85 seconds was the fastest in the fastest race in Olympic history, as five men ran under 10 seconds for the first time.

Gatlin's margin of victory over Francis Obikwelu of Portugal, who finished second in 9.86, was the closest in the event at the Olympics since 1980.

On their heels were Greene in 9.87, Crawford in 9.89 and Powell in 9.94. A sixth sprinter, reigning world champion Kim Collins of St. Kitts and Nevis, finished in 10.0.

"I can't believe it happened," said Gatlin, 22, a native of Brooklyn, N.Y., who entered the race as no better than the fourth favorite. "I said it was going to be the most exciting race in the world, and it was."

Also celebrating was Gatlin's embattled coach, Trevor Graham, who acknowledged last night that he played a crucial role in the identification of a previously undetectable steroid that triggered the sport's ongoing drug scandal.

Graham coached sprinter Marion Jones to five medals - three golds - four years ago in Sydney. He also coached her boyfriend, Tim Montgomery, to a world record in the 100. They subsequently left him for another coach. Jones criticized Graham's coaching in a recent autobiography.

Last night, Graham was credited with another Olympic gold medalist. Meantime, Jones did not qualify for the Olympics in the 100 and Montgomery did not qualify at all.

Asked whether he felt vindicated, Graham said: "Right now, I'm just going to enjoy Justin's win. I'm not even going to think about them."

The sprinters, especially Greene and Crawford, put on a show before the race in front of a capacity crowd at the Olympic Stadium, entertaining the fans and psyching themselves up with antics more often associated with professional wrestling than Olympic track.

Gatlin was less flamboyant. Almost an afterthought, he didn't seem as if he would be a factor when the race began and he had the slowest reaction to the gun. But he caught the field in the middle of the race and separated himself just in time to cross the finish line first.

He seemed almost as surprised to win as Obikwelu, a Nigerian cleared to compete for Portugal two years ago, did to finish second.

Greene, 28, of Irvine, Calif., had planned to use this race to establish himself as history's greatest sprinter. He has more sub-10.0 races (54) than anyone else in history, and a victory would have given him consecutive gold medals in the men's 100, something only Carl Lewis (1984 and '88) has accomplished.

Greene was disappointed to finish third but said he wasn't passing his GOAT torch to Gatlin or anyone else.

"I'm not done," he said. "[Justin] is up and coming, but I don't feel my time is past.

"I always say, `Let the best man win.' Tonight, he ran a remarkable race. I give it to him. But I'm not going to make it easy for him. I'm going to keep padding my stats so he has something to shoot for."

Gatlin won six indoor and outdoor NCAA titles at the University of Tennessee before joining Graham two years ago. Graham said Gatlin and Crawford, of Van Wyck, S.C., revived his track club in Raleigh, N.C., after Jones and Montgomery left.

"Justin came to me and said he wanted to work as hard as Marion did," Graham said. "He came in and put in the work. I think Justin is like a sponge. He soaks up everything. I said the same thing for years about Marion. He's the male version of Marion Jones."

He might not have always been willing.

Gatlin won the world indoor championship at 60 meters in 2003, but injuries set him back for the rest of the year. When he was ready to resume training last winter, Graham made him shovel snow off the track so they could work outdoors.

"He was a little upset at first," Graham said. "Later, he came to me and said, `Yeah, this is what it takes to be Olympic champion.' "

NOTE: The United States picked up a silver in the high jump, where Matt Hemingway, a distant relative of author Ernest Hemingway, finished second to Stefan Holm of Sweden, who leaped 7 feet, 8 3/4 inches.

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