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Powell and Wariner finally up and running for big sprint showdown

Source: www.timesonline.co.uk

13 June 2007
By David Powell

Ten years ago this month, athletics learnt the hard way that it is not boxing. Two fabulous sprinters at the height of their powers went head-to-head, in a $2 million showdown to determine the world’s fastest man. One, Michael Johnson, failed to finish. The other, Donovan Bailey, ended up apologising for his behaviour.

Three years after that showbiz-style flop, on a two-lane track in the Toronto Sky-Dome, Johnson returned for more. While, on this occasion, he was running in a proper track meeting in Sacramento, California, with rounds and an eight-lane final, Johnson wilfully fed the hype over his clash with Maurice Greene. Again, the unofficial title of world’s fastest man was at stake. Neither finished.

No wonder Tom Jordan, the director of the Prefontaine Classic in Eugene, Oregon, tomorrow, is reluctant to seize the world’s best sprinter theme for the scheduled clash between Asafa Powell and Jeremy Wariner. Powell, the 100 metres world record-holder, and Wariner, the Olympic and world 400 metres champion, meet in between at 200 metres in an eight-man race.

While Mark Block, agent to Xavier Carter, who is second only to Johnson in the all-time 200 metres rankings and is in the lineup tomorrow, expressed doubts that Powell and Wariner would make it to the start, Jordan is confident that they will at least get that far. “I will be holding my breath until both are away cleanly . . . or should I say until they cross the finish line?” Jordan said.

Not that he expects either to win. Powell and Wariner face not only Carter but also Shawn Crawford, the Olympic champion, and Wallace Spearmon, the third-fastest man in history and Jordan’s tip for victory. “There may have been other 200 fields with more talent, but I guarantee you the tickets had Olympic Games final written on them,” Jordan said.

Bailey, a Canadian, was the Olympic 100 metres champion and world record-holder when he raced Johnson, the Olympic 200 and 400 metres champion from the United States, over 150 metres in 1997. Each was guaranteed $500,000, with Bailey taking the $1.5 million winner’s purse after Johnson pulled up with a quadricep injury halfway through. Bailey accused Johnson of faking.

Calling Johnson a “coward” and a “chicken”, Bailey apologised later, saying that “this unique event has left the friendship strained”. In 2000, at the United States Olympic trials in Sacramento, Johnson stoked the fires of his clash over 200 metres with Greene in response to what he described as “personal attacks” from the then 100 metres world record-holder.

“Since Carl Lewis left this sport, there has not been an athlete I get excited about running against,” Johnson said in a put-down of Greene. Come the day of the final, the two got their comeuppance. As the temperature in the Hornet Stadium reached 48C (118F), Johnson pulled up with cramp after 50 metres and Greene, suffering a similar problem, lasted only 40 metres farther.

In a serious blow to the Olympics, it meant that neither the defending champion and world record-holder for the distance (Johnson) nor the world champion (Greene) would contest the event in Sydney. Johnson was left cursing the hype. “I have been through this kind of showdown twice now,” he said. “Once the ball starts rolling, you can’t stop it.”

So the ball has not been brought out for rolling in Eugene. Johnson manages Wariner, a fellow Texan, and he has no doubt advised him to avoid making the mistakes that he did. In fact, according to Jordan, the meeting of Powell and Wariner was not the work of greedy agents or sponsors but coincidental. Both, Jordan said, were seeking to extend their range beyond their main distance.

“The Maurice Greene-Michael Johnson race in 2000 was hyped by television as being significant in terms who would win the [Olympic] gold medal,” Jordan said. “That approach is fraught with raising expectations only to have them dashed. We are not promoting this as a titanic meeting that has a great deal of consequence.” He would never make a boxing promoter.

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