For one American, victory in Sydney was an ending, redemption after a humiliating failure on the road to Atlanta. For the other it was only a beginning, the first of five gold medals that she intends to bring home by the end of the Games. And for both sprinters it proved what, for several years now, hasn't been in doubt. Maurice Greene is the world's fastest human and Marion Jones the world's fastest woman.
On a cool, gusty Saturday night, before 100,000 people in Sydney's Olympic Stadium, Jones, 24, calmly stepped to the starting line, ignoring a swarm of moths, and stared down the 100-meter straightaway. Then she blasted out of the blocks, victory ensured within the first 10 meters, and finished, high-stepping, in 10.75 seconds. Her margin of victory, five meters and .37 seconds, was the greatest since the Olympics officially adopted electronic timing in 1968. "Somebody asked me if I was saving something for later in the week," Jones said afterward. "Saving something? This is the Olympic Games. I wasn't saving anything."
Ten minutes later, after the last flash-bulb flared on Jones's victory, 26-year-old "Mo" Greene toed the line. When Greene, who has had to overcome slow starts in the past, broke OK, this race, too, was never in doubt. By 50 meters--"drive phase accelerating to top-end speed," is Greene's technical description--he was powering ahead of the field and on to victory in 9.87 seconds. Then Mo bounced his way into the arms of silver medalist Ato Boldon of Trinidad and Tobago, a training partner, before the two knelt on the track in thankful prayer. "In Atlanta there were tears of sadness," said Greene. "Tonight there were tears of joy."
Jones, leaping and pumping her arm, showed as much emotion as she's ever displayed at a competition. Her incandescent smile lasted until she reached her mother and her coach, Trevor Graham, in the stands. Then tears began to flow. She regained her composure for the flag-draped victory lap (she carried a second flag, that of Belize, her mother's homeland). "I've seen a lot of Olympic Games when people cross the [finish] line," Jones said. "I was like, 'I'm going to cross the line and be a cool cat.' And then all of sudden you realize that you can be described--finally--as an Olympic champion. It's very emotional."
Before the start of his race, Mo was characteristically fidgety, all head rolls, darting glances, tongue whirls and to-and-froing. His coach, former Olympic sprinter John Smith, had instructed Greene to focus on his start. But all he could remember before the gun was praying silently. Still, Greene had come prepared to celebrate, wearing red, white and blue Nikes, which became valuable souvenirs for some lucky fans when he hurled them into the stands. "I gave them all that I could and then I gave them something extra--my shoes," he said.
Neither Greene nor Jones made it to the Atlanta Games four years ago--Jones due to a fractured foot that kept her out of the Olympic Trials, Greene because of the result of an uncharacteristically flat-footed performance at the trials. But that shared disappointment is one of the few things, other than their sport, the two have in common. Off the track, Greene is affable, at times even goofy, with a broad smile and a constant patter. He and his buddies tooled around in a yellow Ferrari and hung out at the beach-volleyball venue on Bondi Beach. Though it was hard to detect amid the throng (and thongs) of women that surrounded him, Greene says he was so nervous that he couldn't eat or sleep. "This week was very tough for me," he said. "I might have looked loose, but I was very nervous."
Nothing runs faster, usually, than Mo's mouth. But in Sydney, with his chief rivals also his closest friends, Mo was relatively restrained. …