Don't be surprised if the sprinters pass a boxing glove instead of a baton during today's Kansas Relays "Main Event," set for 5 p.m. at Memorial Stadium.
It'd be a fitting gesture considering the competitors in the star-studded men's 400 invitational relay have been as aggressive as heavyweights in publicizing what Olympic 100 meter champion Justin Gatlin calls "one of the biggest races of the year."
"It's just boiling over," Gatlin, leader of the Sprint Capitol team, said of emotions heading into the race against rival team HSI, led by Kansas City, Kan., native and fan favorite Maurice Greene.
Sprint Capitol coach Trevor Graham said earlier this week his squad of Gatlin, Shawn Crawford, Dwight Thomas and Rodney Martin was so dominant it'd be "running against the clock," not worrying about the competition in trying to better the meet record of 38.45 set by Green's team back in 2000.
"He can be running against the clock, but the clock is going to be behind us. As I recall, we've never lost a relay here," said Greene, who will run with Leonard Scott, Kaaron Conwright and Allen Johnson.
"I would say this: People have had more success against me when you don't say anything, but the success rate when you do say something before the race : you get nowhere with that. It gets my blood pressure boiling. Let's go."
His relay teammate, 2006 World Indoor sprint champion Scott, forgot for a moment he's known as a soft-spoken guy in discussing today's challenge.
"I'm not a big talker as far as egging people on. When I do say something, it's usually a strong statement," Scott said. "For me to say something, that means you are in trouble because I step up my game more, too. Don't lay down a challenge like that if you can't back it up."
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Graham wasn't backing down Saturday, even after HSI coach John Smith intoned: "Whatever is said in track and field before the race is fun. At the same time, the clock is round. What comes around goes around. Be careful what you say, you may wind up eating it."
"Yes," Graham said, asked if he knew his early week comment to the Journal-World and 6News would spark controversy this week. "Just to give the crowd something to come to see. We have a great shot to beat the meet record."
Interestingly, a third team decided to enter the trash talk fray Friday. The Hobson's Choice team of Rae Edwards, Mardy Scales, Mark Jelks and Ivory Williams, coached by K.C. coaching legend Al Hobson, isn't backing down, either.
"I don't think we can win. I think we are going to win," Edwards said. "I respect Maurice and respect Gatlin. They are legends, but for me to be a man : I can't say this man is better than me. I'm sure we are going to win."
"We don't bust our tail every day to come in second," noted Scales, the 2005 U.S. 60 meters champ.
Hobson may have been asking for the hometown support when he said: "We are in Kansas. Even though it's not basketball, you've got to 'Beware of the Phog.' We are the Phog."
"You are not the Phog. You are a brick wall," HSI coach Smith joked.
Today's 400 relay, the last event of today's 2-5 p.m. GOLDZONE2, may match Olympic greats Greene and Gatlin down the stretch. That's the hope of meet organizers, who put pictures of the two relay anchors on the game program with the inscription, "Kings of the Dash Collide."
Gatlin cautioned the 400 relay might not turn into a two-man show.
"It's not me and Maurice," he said. "You have to understand we will be on the fourth leg. If the stick doesn't get around, we will just be looking around."
Gatlin says he's flattered he's one of the two focal points of the Relays.
"I wouldn't say I'm a hero," he said. "I would say, 'You really don't have heroes when you consider it a heavyweight bout.' You just want to look for a good fight, you want to see good punches thrown, good strategy. I think everyone is looking forward to the race."
Including fans of local track legend Greene.
"I have to believe I can do the unbelievable things people have seen me do for years," Greene said. "Just keep watching. I'll show you."