PARIS: Olympic 100m champion Maurice Greene’s aura of invincibility may have taken a battering over the past year but the Kansas Comet will be desperate to put a stop to rumours of his demise and win a fourth world title in the event when the World Athletics Championships begin here tomorrow.
However, it is not only the 29-year-old American who will be bidding to repel the pretenders to his crown as other athletics greats like Hicham El Guerrouj, Haile Gebrselassie, Allen Johnson and Gail Devers aim to hand out a telling message ahead of the Olympics next year.
Much has been made of the absentees from the World Championships, headed by the three most charismatic women athletes, Marion Jones, Cathy Freeman and Paula Radcliffe, but if anyone was in any doubt how much a world title counts it was best summed up by American sprint champion Kelli White.
“You cannot say that the World Championships will not be a World Championships just because Marion Jones is not there,” she said.
“A world title is a world title whoever is competing or not.”
While the 100m world record holder Tim Montgomery has attributed his poor form this season to the early morning rises because of his and Marion Jones’s baby, Tim Junior – and a newly-discovered allergy to peanuts – Greene has offered no such excuses for his astonishing slump from champion to chumpion.
However, Greene declared after anchoring an American team to victory in a relay in Berlin earlier this month that he hadn’t felt better all season, laying down an ominous warning to all his putative rivals such as Bernard Williams, Deji Aliu and Dwain Chambers.
“After the race I felt better than I have done all season,” he said.
“This will give me a real boost to my confidence ahead of the World Championships.”
For all the victories that European champion Chambers, Aliu and Williams have racked up this season Greene still possesses one vital weapon in his armoury – he knows how to cope with the pressure of a major championship and win, even when he injured a groin muscle in the 2001 final in Edmonton.
Another boon for Greene, whose coach John Smith says that while he is not 100% he may not need to be to win the title, is that perhaps the best performer this season over the distance, John Capel, is running in the 200m instead.
El Guerrouj will be attempting not only to win a fourth 1,500m crown but also double up in the 5,000m while Devers and Johnson will bid for a fourth title at the venerable ages of 35 and 32 respectively in the 100m hurdles and 110m hurdles.
For El Guerrouj, it is not so much other athletes that give him nightmares but the thought of taking on the 5,000m itself.
“There’s no doubt that the 1,500m is like a baby I’ve brought up by myself, I know everything about it, but the 5,000m is a leap into the unknown. I’m scared of the 5,000m. Not of any particular runner, I’m just scared of the event,” the 29-year-old Moroccan said.
Devers and Johnson have been around so long that fear probably doesn’t feature in their vocabulary but the American pair will be anxious to dispel the notion that they are on the wane with experienced Jamaican Brigitte Foster and young Lativian Stanislav Olijar knocking on the door.
Gebrselassie, though, faces a real test of his ability to still win at the top level on the track as his younger fellow Ethiopian Kenenisa Bekele looks to end his hopes of regaining the world 10,000m title he lost in Edmonton two years ago – even if he fails the one surefire thing is that “Gebr” will still be smiling.
French hopes of adding a golden tint to a championships they hope will give Paris a boost in their bid to win the right to host the 2012 Olympics rest probably with Christine Arron in the women’s 100m and veteran Stephane Diagana in the 400m hurdles. – AFP