U.S. golden in track, soccer

A sprint for silver, a lap for humility

Track

Athens Olympics

Prime-time coverage. TV: Ch. 11, 8p.m. to midnight

August 27, 2004|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

ATHENS - Last night, Baltimore native Bernard Williams was the middle man in an American Olympic sprint sweep, running a sharp, smart race and taking the silver medal in the 200-meter dash.

Williams passed Justin Gatlin, the world's fastest human, in the closing meters. And then the two and gold medalist Shawn Crawford formed a circle and gave thanks. Williams walked to the stands, took a small American flag and walked a subdued victory lap.

The celebration was in sharp contrast to four years ago at the Sydney Olympics, where Williams was part of an American gold-medal-winning 400 relay team.

The antics of Williams and his teammates then - including wearing U.S. flags as headgear - drew the wrath of the crowd in Australia.

Was Sydney on his mind last night?

"For me not to think about that would be out of order," Williams said. "I've learned from my mistakes, and those things happen for a reason. This opportunity was a blessing. With the flag incident [in Australia], I'm happy that this time I got to do it right."

A night of Greek theater included tragedy for James Carter, a one-time Baltimore high school rival of Williams who was in position to win the 400 hurdles coming off the final turn, but faltered badly over the last two barriers and faded to a fourth-place finish.

That was the next-to-last race at Olympic Stadium. The 200 was scheduled to go off 19 minutes later, but the crowd of 75,000 wanted its say about the absence of defending Olympic champion Kostas Kenteris, a Greek who withdrew from the Games after missing a drug test. The protests from noisy fans delayed the start of the 200.

A surprise winner in Sydney, Kenteris and women's 100 hopeful Katerina Thanou were in a motorcycle accident in the run-up to the opening ceremony, then pulled out of the Games having missed multiple random drug tests.

The chant of "Hellas," the native word for Greece, began as the 200 finalists adjusted their blocks.

Williams nearly always mugs for the camera, and when the Carver High graduate was introduced in Lane 3, he was heckled mercilessly. The boos grew louder for Lane 4, the spot for Crawford, another showman who once raced a zebra and giraffe for television.

"I felt like it was Showtime at the Apollo," Williams said. "I was waiting for the Sandman to come out."

Frank Fredericks, who will turn 34 next month, was warmly greeted in Lane 8, but it was the venerable Namibian who raised a hand to stop the proceedings when he couldn't hear the starter. The noise subsided to a buzz, but the operator of the stadium scoreboard screen stirred things up by displaying Crawford and Williams.

After a false start, a smaller portion of the crowd chanted the name of Kenteris. Finally, the field got off cleanly.

Williams challenged Crawford on the turn, then was passed by Gatlin, the 100 gold medalist. In the last meter, Williams overtook Gatlin and took silver by 0.02 of a second, matching his personal best of 20.01 with the best close of his career.

At the U.S. trials last month, Williams stumbled in third.

"This was a whole lot better," Williams said. "I ran through the line."

Coming in an individual event, was this silver better than the relay gold he won in Sydney?

"I wouldn't say that, but with this, I got the chance to show some growth," Williams said. "I carried the flag with respect. I painted a better picture of myself, and represented the U.S. the way they want me to."

Despite being a dependable No. 2 man, Williams is not in the pool for the 400 relay. He closed the Olympics considerably better than he began them, however. His June positive test for marijuana was announced Aug. 9.

Giddy with relief last night, Williams referenced a Gil Scott-Heron song, discussed race relations and said his mother, Angela, and grandmothers were with him in spirit, if not in person.

Crawford won in 19.79. He and Gatlin train together under coach Trevor Graham. Williams and Crawford have the same agent, and talk of a sweep intensified when the United States went 1-2-3 in the 400.

The Americans took eight of the nine medals in the three sprints, but Carter's misstep shut the United States out of a 400 hurdles medal for the first time since 1968.

The Mervo High grad was expected to take silver, but he went after Felix Sanchez, the two-time world champion from the Dominican Republic, a little too aggressively. Even with Sanchez off the second turn, Carter was still in second coming over the last hurdle but losing steam rapidly.

Having won the trials in 47.68, the world's fastest time of 2004 coming into the final, Carter could muster only a 48.58 last night. Sanchez won in 47.63, and Jamaica's Danny McFarlane and France's Naman Keita passed Carter.

When he saw the results, Carter clenched his fists, brought them to his forehead, then kneeled on the track in disbelief.

"I just didn't have it tonight," said Carter, who had predicted victory. "I messed up, I got beat."

Carter did not linger in the interview area. According to Renaldo Nehemiah, his agent, he might have focused too much energy on Sanchez.

"I told him on the warm-up track, if you want to beat Sanchez, you have to focus on James Carter," Nehemiah said. "James ran out of gas coming off of 8. That's a tough, frustrating lesson to learn."

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