Fast Times, Big Talk: In a Long-Awaited Duel, Michael Johnson and Maurice Greene Will Meet This Week to Decide Who Owns the 200-Meter High Road to Sydney
Starr, Mark, Newsweek
It may be the most exciting 20 seconds in sports. No, not Mike Tyson's next fight--although this showdown, like a heavyweight bout, will feature two undisputed world champions, a ton of trash talk and even a prime-time-TV showcase. This contest will take place on a Sacramento, Calif., track, not in a Las Vegas ring. On Sunday the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials culminate in a much-hyped and sure-to-be-much-watched duel at 200 meters.
The favorite is Michael Johnson, 32, whose face (or, more accurately, whose flying golden feet) became famous at the last Olympics, where he was the first man ever to win gold in both the 200 and 400 meters. He holds the world records in both events and hopes to repeat his double glory at the Sydney Games this coming September. The challenge comes from a relatively new kid off the blocks, Maurice Greene, who will turn 26 the day of the race. His 9.79-second world record in the 100 has earned him the unofficial title of world's fastest human. Last year "Mo" became the first sprinter ever to win both the 100 and 200 meters at the world championships.
The two last went head to head more than two years ago. Deep in a post-Olympic slump, Johnson ran almost a full second slower than his record time, and the upstart Greene whupped him. They were scheduled to race again twice last summer, and Johnson pulled out both times--once to attend his grandmother's funeral and once because of a minor injury. Greene began to accuse Johnson of ducking him. "He can run whenever he wants, but it just seems he wants to run when I'm not in the race," says Greene, who is equal parts amiable and cocky. "All I've been saying is, 'Let's give the fans what they want to see'."
Johnson, who is bright, supremely confident and more than a little prickly, was incensed by Greene's disrespect. "I was raised to have dignity, not to be a trash talker," he says. "But it just got to the point when I could no longer hold my tongue." When he finally let go, John-son showed the same kick with his comments that he does with his feet. "He should show a lit-tle class," Johnson said. "But he knows any time he mentions my name, he gets his name in print."
Johnson doesn't think Greene's name belongs with other Olympic sprinting threats like Ato Boldon from Trinidad and Tobago or Frankie Fredericks from Namibia. "What's [Greene's] personal best--19.8?" sneers Johnson, who set the record, 19.32, at the '96 Olympics. (Greene's best is actually 19.86.) "He's a great 100-meter runner, but so far he hasn't proven he can be really good at the 200. So go ahead, build the race up all you want, but don't expect me to get excited about the guy. …