Mighty Mo unfazed by pride of young lions snapping at his heels

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 22 August, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 22 August, 2004, 12:00am

The Lion King is not ready to step down. Maurice Greene lived up to his reputation as a motor-mouth yesterday and declared that he was ready to take on all comers and defend his 100-metres gold medal.

'I hear them young lions growling, but they got to make more noise than that,' grinned Mighty Mo after the preliminaries in the blue riband race.

If everything goes well - he has a semi-final to race today before lining up in the final (early Monday morning Hong Kong time) - Greene expects to be crowned as the greatest 100-metres sprinter of all time. He thinks that if he defends the gold medal he won four years ago in Sydney, he deserves to be called the greatest.

Greene has already carved it on his body - the tattoo G.O.A.T., for Greatest of All Time - but he also wants to etch it in the public's mind. We wonder what fellow-American Carl Lewis will say about all this. Lewis also won two back-to-back Olympic 100-metres titles in 1984 and in 1988 (after Canadian Ben Johnson's world-record mark was stripped).

Greene's viewpoint is supported by no less than Michael Johnson. 'In the 100 metres he is the greatest, hands down,' says Johnson, the world record-holder in the 200 and 400.

But Greene feels the only way to silence any doubters would be to go out and win here. 'Athens is a great place for me and I'm going to prove it soon,' says the man with the quotable quotes.

It took him 10.18 seconds to win his opening heat. But it took him more than half an hour to walk the 100 metres past the world's media corps, all waiting to grab a quote from him. He was the man everyone wanted. Forget young American guns Justin Gatlin and Shawn Crawford, or even Jamaican hope Asafa Powell. It was Mo the world wanted.

The questions flew thick and fast as he inched his way from group to group down the tunnel. Greene graciously paused at every bank of microphones, every camera. He loves the attention. He is undoubtedly a star still shining bright.

'I was eager to get that race out of the way and to get things started. Everything is going well. I did what I had to do,' said Greene.

His opening salvo in the first of three heats before the final was 10.18 seconds - slow by his standards. But then everyone else was cruising, too.

'Hey, if I win the gold medal by running 12 seconds, I will be happy. I never really turned it on out there,' he warned.

So maybe there is still hope that he might go for the world record.

The record is 9.78 seconds, held by Tim Montgomery, who failed to qualify for these Games from the US trials. It was Montgomery who broke Greene's 1999 world record of 9.79 when he ran one-hundredth of a second faster in Paris two years ago.

Greene was 25 when he set the world mark. Can his legs spur him now to a new one? At least he will be running in the same place - Athens - where he broke Donovan Bailey's 1996 mark of 9.84.

No wonder he says he loves Athens. The people of Athens also love him. He was the only runner to be introduced during the heats. Normally, introductions are only done in the finals. But the announcer took great joy in rolling 'Mau-u-u-u-rice Gre-e-e-ene' off his tongue yesterday. And the packed stadium cheered as if welcoming one of their own. Greene revelled in the adulation.

Although the young lions did not growl all that much yesterday, it will be different today. Powell looked smooth and in total control as he won his heats. Brilliant young American sprinters Gatlin and Crawford also were looking sensational. Greene knows the pack is closing in. But the King says he is ready to take them on. It will be a race worth waking up to see.

Number of the Day: 10,000

Haile Gebrselassie failed in his bid to become the only person to win three Olympic 10,000-metres gold medals when he was beaten by fellow-Ethiopian Kenenisa Bekele, who ran a Games record time of 27 minutes and 05.10 seconds. Gebrselassie finished fifth.