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SYDNEY 2000 / SUMMER OLYMPIC GAMES

Greece's Kenteris Shows He Can Run a Mean 200

Track: His remarks after his country's first male gold in track since 1912 denigrate blacks.

September 29, 2000|MIKE PENNER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SYDNEY, Australia — So what was that playing out Thursday at Olympic Stadium? Day 6 of the Olympic track and field competition . . . or John Rocker Night?

Where was the fine print that read: Bring your best racist comment to the meet, go home with an Olympic medal?

Konstantinos Kenteris of Greece upset Ato Boldon, John Capel and Obadele Thompson to win the men's 200-meter final, becoming the first Greek man to win an Olympic track gold medal since 1912, then left international journalists shaking their heads as an interpreter translated Kenteris thusly:

"From the moment I stepped into this country, I realized the others didn't have anything better than me. I knew I had a chance, especially as there were five black runners and I was the only white."

Kenteris might have been attempting a joke. Giving him the benefit of the doubt, something might have been lost in the translation.

But there was no misunderstanding Australian men's long jump silver medalist Jai Taurima, who ignited a bushfire of controversy two weeks before the Games when he disparaged the three African-Americans on the U.S. long jump team, saying, "You can pretty much knock out all the dark athletes" competing in the cold weather of Sydney.

Under pressure from Australian Olympic officials, Taurima apologized for his comments in early September. But when he was asked after winning his silver medal if he regretted making those remarks, Taurima looked the questioner blankly in the face and spat out two words:

"No comment."

If there is such a thing as a cosmic court of justice, then it was in session Thursday. After five rounds, Taurima was in first place, basking in the glow of a personal-best mark of 27 feet 10 1/4 inches.

Then Cuba's Ivan Pedroso took his sixth and final jump. Result: 28- 3/4.

And with that, Pedroso, who is dark-skinned, knocked Taurima out of a gold medal.

Pedroso's last-chance comeback was the virtuosic counterpoint to a downright bizarre 200-meter competition. Marion Jones won the women's gold medal, as expected, with a time of 21.84 seconds, but everything else was off the charts.

* Pauline Davis-Thompson of the Bahamas, in her fifth Olympics, won the silver medal behind Jones, then entertained the media with a comical rambling dissertation on sports bras, a geography lesson about her homeland and a prediction, made with Jones seated to her immediate left, that the Bahamas will smoke the United States in the women's 400-meter relay.

* Susanthika Jayasinghe of Sri Lanka won the bronze medal in the 200 and then bitterly waved the accomplishment in the face of the Sri Lanka track and field federation, accusing federation officials of sexual harassment and duplicity surrounding her controversial suspension for a urine sample she believes was tampered with.

* Australia's Cathy Freeman, trying to double after winning the 400-meter gold, finished a distant seventh in 22.53, nearly seven-tenths of a second behind Jones.

* Kenteris became the first Greek male in 88 years to win an Olympic track and field gold medal. The drought goes back to 1912, when Kenteris Tsiklitiras won the men's Olympic championship . . . in the standing long jump.

* Boldon, considered a shoo-in for the 200 gold after Michael Johnson and Maurice Greene blew out hamstrings at the U.S. Olympic trials, placed third with a time that was four-tenths of second slower than his bronze-medal finish in 1996. Boldon ran only 20.20 on a night when 20.08 would have won him the gold. Boldon ran 19.80 in Atlanta and has a personal best of 19.77.

Instead, the title went to Kenteris, running an unspectacular time of 20.09, with Britain's Darren Campbell taking the silver in 20.20.

Two Americans not named Greene or Johnson also raced in the final, and they finished last and next-to-last. John Capel, the most impressive runner throughout the qualifying heats, got off to a horrendous start--he later claimed a false start, but the judge failed to call it--to place eighth in 20.49. U.S. teammate Coby Miller came in just ahead of Capel in 20.35.

Somewhere, Johnson and Greene were cringing. Had they both held up through 100-degree heat in Sacramento and qualified for the U.S. 200-meter team, they might have placed 1-2 in this final running backward.

Johnson has run under 20 seconds 23 times during his career--and has bettered 20.09 in six of his last eight 200-meter races. Greene ran 20.02 in June and won the 1999 200 world championship with a time of 19.90.

Which is why Boldon, the 1997 world champion, figured as the prohibitive favorite in Sydney. No Johnson, no Greene, no worries, right?

"I did think the race would be easier for me without Maurice and Michael," Boldon said. "But I also knew that nobody was going to automatically give me a gold medal.

"I've had only two sub-10s [at 100 meters] all year, so I know this has been a subpar year for me."

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