2 runners, only 1 happy ending

Track: Hopeful relatives and friends in Baltimore nervously follow two events at the Summer Olympics.

Athens Olympics

August 27, 2004|By Reginald Fields and Scott Calvert | Reginald Fields and Scott Calvert,SUN STAFF

At precisely 3:30 p.m. yesterday, when James Carter was lining up for the finals of the 400-meter hurdle race at the Olympics in Greece, his mother paced through a living room at a niece's Baltimore home waiting anxiously to hear results.

"I'm nervous, I am. I'm very nervous," said Marilyn Knight, smiling and fidgeting with a gold chain that her son gave her, that she never wears, except on this day for good luck.

Walter Cole, who coached Olympic track star Bernard Williams at Baltimore's Carver Vocational-Technical High School, was driving to a sports store when he got a call on his cell phone from an assistant following Williams' 200-meter sprint final on the Internet.

"Coach, do you want to know now, or do you want to wait until this evening and watch it on TV?" Mike Scribner asked Cole.

"Mike, you gotta tell me now," Cole said.

For part of yesterday afternoon, the family and friends of Carter and Williams interrupted their afternoon routines to hover around computers and learn the results of the biggest race of these Summer Games for Baltimore's two Olympic track stars.

The news from Athens was mixed. Carter, who was expected to finish first or second, finished fourth and out of medal contention. Williams, who would have surprised no one if he had failed to medal, earned a silver.

Carter, 26, a Mergenthaler Vocational-Technical High School graduate, was expected to challenge chief rival Felix Sanchez of the Dominican Republic, who won the race, for the gold medal. Carter faded badly down the stretch.

"I have to watch it on television ... and see what happened," said Freddie Hendricks, Carter's former coach at Mervo, who got a call at home from a friend about the race. "To finish with no medal at all, it's shocking."

Cole said he was surprised by Williams' strong run.

"I was thinking and hoping, really, that he would get a bronze," Cole said.

Not that Cole doubted his former charge; he just knew the competition was stiff. "But Bernard, he's a big-time performer," Cole said. "When the world is his stage, he will react."

React he did, tying his personal best of 20.01 seconds, close behind fellow American Shawn Crawford, who won the 200 meters in 19.79 seconds.

Cole remembers the day in the 1990s when Williams, then a sophomore at Southwestern High School, was stunned to finish fourth at a meet against Carver. The top three finishers ran for Carver.

The next year, Williams, now 26, was wearing a Carver track uniform. He and Carter later became track rivals in high school.

Williams' mother, Angela Williams, was in an elevator at the West Baltimore rehabilitation center where she works when a colleague told her about the silver medal. "I gave him a big old hug," she said with a laugh.

Knight, Carter's mother, left work early yesterday to be with family members who had gathered around a computer to monitor his race. She stayed in a different room, unable to stand the pressure of the race as it unfolded, and preferred only to hear the results.

"I just wanted him to make it onto that medal podium," she said.

At the moment she learned he wouldn't, Knight moved from being hopeful about the race to wondering what she would say to her son when he called later - he always calls after big races and has called or e-mailed every night since the Olympics began.

"I know that my son did his best," she said. "I know he'll be upset. I'm concerned about my son. I'm just very proud of him. James was a very sick kid, and he's overcome a lot. And for him to get this far is a miracle."

When he was 12, Carter was diagnosed with a muscular disease that made it difficult for him to walk and impossible to run. Within two years, with medical treatment, he was better and had begun running and joined a youth track club. Eight years later, he was an Olympian.

"Fourth in the world is not bad," said Knight. "I know he won't think that way. But how many people can say they are fourth in the world in something they do? We have nothing to be ashamed about."

She was going to watch the taped race last night on television with family.

Cole was set to watch Williams' race, a new videotape recorder he bought for the occasion ready to preserve every step. He plans to give a copy to Carver High's track team as inspiration for the next generation.

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