Archive for Friday, July 21, 2000

Hype building for clash between Johnson, Greene

July 21, 2000


— Even Las Vegas is booking odds on the Michael Johnson-Maurice Greene showdown over 200 meters at the U.S. Olympic trials, just like a heavyweight fight between two great warriors.

And an internet service is conducting a poll on the race, similar to a presidential election.

Not since Johnson's ill-fated 150-meter, $2 million match race against Canada's Donovan Bailey in 1997 has track been so rife with anticipation -- or so much trash-talking.

Johnson admits that the buildup for this encounter between the world's top two sprinters would grab his interest if he were not one of the competitors.

"I would tune in Sunday because of what's been made of this -- it's huge," he said. "It's great for the sport."

If ever a sport needed a shot of adrenaline, it's track in the United States. Johnson vs. Greene might be just the kick.

There is no guarantee that the two main characters will get onto the track together. Both have to get through their first-round heats Saturday and semifinals Sunday before reaching the 200 final, the last event of the trials.

If they do -- and barring any mishaps, they should -- Johnson will be the 5-7 betting favorite, according to a Las Vegas book. The odds on Greene winning are 6-5.

The internet poll also favors Johnson, with 84 percent of the respondents saying he will win, 14 percent choosing Greene and 2 percent favoring one of the other six finalists. Picking anyone other than Johnson or Greene is like betting on the Cubs to win the World Series or the Clippers to win the NBA Finals.

The showdown has been building since the two supreme sprinters were supposed to meet at the 1999 USA Championships at Eugene, Ore., where Johnson withdrew at the last minute because of injury.

Greene wasted no time in contending that Johnson was ducking him. Johnson countered by saying he was legitimately hurt.

The trash-talking intensified right from the first day of the trials last week. After Greene won his opening-round heat in the 100 meters, he yelled, "Get Michael Johnson -- that's what I want to do."

The 32-year-old Johnson called Greene, who will be 26 Sunday, "immature" and "disrespectful," and their verbal exchanges have gotten nastier and nastier.

Johnson has maintained that trash-talking is not his style and he has become extremely miffed at what he terms "personal attacks" by Greene. The verbal jousting, including Greene's contention that this is only a preliminary to the Olympic final at Sydney in September, has made the serious-minded Johnson more intent to win.

"The people you don't like, you certainly don't want to lose to," he said. "It intensifies the competition."

Greene has no intention of losing, either, even if he is dismissing this as a prelim.

What added to his fire and determination was a newspaper article by Johnson that said Greene lacked smarts and confidence. Greene said the story "motivated" him.

"He doesn't think anyone can beat him," Greene said. "But if you look at the last race we had, guess who won?"

No guessing is necessary. Greene won at the 1998 Prefontaine Classic, one year after Johnson beat him in their only other meeting, at the same meet.

Greene also took exception to Johnson's contention that he would not be prepared to run well at the trials because he had lost three races this year, two shortly before arriving in Sacramento.

"People thought I came here not ready to run," Greene said. "I'm here to show them that I am. Just because I lost a couple of races -- that was practice.

"This is Showtime."

That's exactly what it's expected to be Sunday, when Greene, the two-time world champion, world record-holder and trials winner in the 100, lines up against Johnson, the Olympic champion and world record-holder in both the 200 and 400.

This will be a battle of strength and experience (Johnson) against speed and youthful exuberance (Greene). Johnson's best time for the 200 is 19.32 seconds, the world record he set at the Atlanta Games. Greene's fastest time is 19.86, run in 1997.

Greene hasn't run the 200 often, but he did last year and won the world title and was ranked No. 1 in the world, just ahead of Johnson, who had ruled the race for years.

"When I'm on the track, that's my house," Greene said, "and nobody can tell me what to do in my house. I'm running the show."

"My objective is winning," Johnson said. "Third place is not good enough. Second place is not good enough. I'm here to win."

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