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Maurice Greene Takes the Fast Track Toward Notoriety : Track and field: Confident sprinter surprises many with his performances in 100 meters. He gets big test this week in U.S. outdoors.

June 14, 1995|RANDY HARVEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SACRAMENTO — As usual at the U.S. outdoor track and field championships, several of the world's fastest men will compete this week, 100-meter runners such as two-time Olympic champion Carl Lewis, world-record holder Leroy Burrell, top-ranked Dennis Mitchell . . . and Maurice Greene.

If you're asking, "Who is Maurice Greene?" you're not alone. Even track experts, such as Scott Davis, who serves as a public address announcer at meets throughout the world and edits statistical annuals for USA Track & Field, are not quite sure.

Questioned recently about Greene, Davis pored through his books and could find no mention of the sprinter. Improvising, Davis said, "Exploded onto the scene this year. Fourth in the indoor world championships. Fast."

No one outside of Greene's hometown, Kansas City, Kan., knew much more about him before the Texas Relays in April, when he won the 100 in 9.88 seconds, the world's fastest time this year under all conditions. It will not be listed otherwise because the wind was 5.3 meters per second, high above the legal allowable of 2.0.

But it was difficult to determine afterward whether the wind was blowing any harder than Greene, who said, "When I . . . saw the field I was racing against, I knew I was just as good as everybody else."

A bold statement, considering that the field included Lewis. Too bold, perhaps, for the sport's insiders, who figured Greene, like spring flowers, would wilt in the heat.

Here we are, though, 24 hours before the 100-meter heats in the USA Mobil Outdoor Track and Field Championships that start today at Hughes Stadium, and Greene is among an extraordinarily deep field of six or seven sprinters who could finish among the top three and represent the United States in the World Championships Aug. 4-13 in Sweden.

More significant for a sport in which many of the marquee names in the United States are athletes who competed in the 1984 and '88 Summer Olympics, he is part of a new generation--along with hurdler Allen Johnson, long jumper Kareem Streete-Thompson, shotputter John Godina and high jumper Amy Acuff--who figure to emerge this week.

Greene, called "Mr. Confidence" by Track & Field News, would say that he already has emerged. "My goal is to win the national championships and place in the top three in the World Championships," he said this week.

He then scolded the editors of Track & Field News, the self-proclaimed "Bible of the Sport," for predicting a fifth-place finish for him, behind Mitchell, Jon Drummond, Burrell and Andre Cason but one place ahead of Lewis.

"People are still doubting my ability," Greene said. "But I know what I can do. I guess you can say I'm a cocky person. I feel I shouldn't be beaten. I feel I should win every time."

In defense of Track & Field News, Greene has not established a form chart, particularly not in a championship meet such as this one that will require two rounds Thursday before the next evening's final.

Greene, 20, was an exceptional high school sprinter in Kansas, where he won the 100 and 200 three consecutive years in the state's second-largest division. He also anchored his school's 400-meter relay team to three state titles in a row.

But his notoriety did not extend beyond the Kansas borders as he chose not to run track in college, accepting instead a Project Choice scholarship from the Ewing Kauffman Foundation for students in the Kansas City area who maintain a qualifying grade-point average, remain drug free and do not father or mother a child out of wedlock.

That also freed Greene to work with the coach he has had since he was an 8-year-old junior Olympian, Nike Central's Al Hobson. If Greene had competed for a college, he probably would have had to compete in two or three events each weekend during the outdoor season to score points for his team.

But Hobson brought Greene along slowly, partly by design and partly by necessity because of a hamstring injury that forced Greene to sit out most of 1994. His only accomplishment last year, Greene said, was that he finally won a race against his older brother, Ernest Jr., a former national junior college champion at 200 meters. Ernest, 24, did not qualify for this year's national championships because of a foot injury.

When Maurice began competing nationally this winter, he was ready. He finished sixth in the 60 meters at the indoor national championships, but advanced to the World Championships in Barcelona, Spain, because all of those eligible ahead of him withdrew. In his first international experience, he finished fourth.

Then came his victory over Lewis in Texas, victories in Slovakia and Austria and, most impressive, a victory 10 days ago in the Prefontaine Classic at Eugene, Ore., where he ran 10.24 to beat Drummond, Cason and 1994 NCAA champion Sam Jefferson. Greene's best time this season is 10.19.

"I should say that I'm surprised to see him do so well so soon, but, no, I'm not," Hobson said. "He's not the most mature young man in the world, but on the track he is very mature.

"He's not up there with the Mitchells and Drummonds and Casons yet, but, some day, I think you'll be talking about him like you do the legendary Carl Lewis. That's what I expect of him."

No wonder, then, that Greene's father, Ernest Sr., says, "I'm proud to see him running with the big boys, but I need to remind him to be humble."

To paraphrase a song, it's hard to be humble when you get faster every day.

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