Greene Climbing 100-Meter Ladder

Thursday, July 20th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — There's a certain glint in Maurice Greene's eyes when he talks about how far he has come as a 100-meter runner in the past four years.

The knowledge that he is the world's fastest man and a member of the U.S. Olympic team softens the memory of 1996, when he failed to make the team and broke down in tears.

The confidence that he can beat anyone at that distance puts an extra bounce into Greene's step and boosts his ego as he prepares for Sunday's showdown against Michael Johnson over 200 meters at the U.S. Olympic trials.

But where does Greene rank in the pantheon of 100-meter runners? Is he better than Jesse Owens, Carl Lewis, Jim Hines, Bob Hayes and all the other great sprinters who have come before him?

Even though Greene's resume does not include an Olympic gold medal like the others, he has some outstanding credentials: world record-holder at 9.79 seconds; two-time world champion; two-time U.S. champion.

Opinions vary on Greene's status among the all-time best. Some ranking him at or near the top, while others say he needs more time plus an Olympic gold.

Greene wants to become known as the greatest sprinter who ever lived, better even than Lewis, but he knows he must win a gold medal to get in that class.

``If I don't get an Olympic gold medal in Sydney, it will never happen. There would always be a void in my career. My career would be nothing. I need to get the gold medal to feel complete.''

Many of track's greatest stars and some coaches had their opinions about Greene.

Hines, winner of the 1968 Olympic 100 in a world-record 9.95, a mark that stood for 15 years: ``I would rank him about fifth or sixth, because of Owens, Hayes, Lewis and myself. He comes out of the blocks and explodes. He explodes better than anyone between 20 and 60 meters — even me.''

Madeline Manning-Jackson, the 1968 women's Olympic 800-meter champion: ``Maurice is up with the best. I don't think he's hit his high point yet. He still has things to learn about the 100. It's amazing to think what he'll run before his time is over.''

Roger Kingdom, the 1984 and 1988 Olympic gold medalist in the 110-meter hurdles and a former world record-holder: ``As far as talent, he has proven himself to be one of the greatest, so I would put him in the top five. With his attitude and personality, I would put him in the top 10. He's very young. He will learn a lot of things.''

Al Oerter, the four-time Olympic discus champion from 1956-68 who set the world record four times: ``He's right up there, but Bobby Morrow was the greatest and the prettiest 100-meter runner, and Bob Hayes was the most aggressive — he would come out clawing at the air; he couldn't wait to get at you. You can't base it strictly on time; you have to base it on a quality athlete.''

LeRoy Walker, coach of the 1976 U.S. men's Olympic team and former president of the U.S. Olympic Committee: ``Time-wise, he ranks high, but my favorite always has been Jesse. Stylistically, Maurice also ranks high, the way he divides the race. The questions are will he stick with that style and how long will he maintain it? I also like the way he can transfer his speed so eloquently. If someone else has a bad phase, he can't transfer his speed like Maurice.''

Fred Newhouse, a 1976 gold medalist in the 1,600-relay and a silver medalist in the 400 and the leader for the 2000 U.S. Olympic team: ``Maurice has the potential to be one of the best of all time. I think you will see a lot of him for a long time. He's on the front end of his growth curve. I think he will break the world record again.''

Mel Rosen, coach of the 1992 U.S. Olympic team: ``I can't rank him yet. He's a great sprinter but his true greatness will be determined by his longevity. He has great speed, great technique, but I'd have to rank Carl Lewis above him. Even Jesse Owens didn't have longevity. If he had stayed eight or 10 years, I would have ranked him higher. Maurice is ahead of his peers because he's won the world championship, but he's not there yet with Jesse or Bobby Morrow.''

Tom Jennings, former coach of the Pacific Coast Club: ``He's unranked until he wins the Olympic Games. Until you're an Olympic champion, you're not ranked. Maurice is a great athlete and he's beating good people, but I would put Carl on top.''

Cliff Wiley, two-time national outdoor champion at 400 meters and once indoors and a member of the 1980 Olympic team in the 200: ``I think he'll be better than Carl. When it's all over, Greene may be the greatest ever. I saw him run at 13 or 14 and I knew he was coming. This kid can flat out run. And he's still young.''