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Red Light, Greene Light

Athletes have been warned not to use flag as a prop, but sprinter is as flamboyant as ever

August 11, 2004|Diane Pucin | Times Staff Writer

ATHENS — American athletes have been cautioned against extravagant flag-waving at these Olympics, and it has been suggested that they nix any ideas of using the flag as a headband, or as a cape, or as any other kind of celebration prop.

Maurice Greene apparently wasn't listening.

At a news conference organized by his clothing sponsor, the sprint champion on Tuesday showed off the shoes he'll be wearing in competition here:

White with 12 red stripes across the front; blue with white stars on the back -- designed to look like the American flag.

The shoes are bright, gaudy -- there are also the letters "MO" -- short for Maurice -- in gold, a flame shooting from the O -- and loudly patriotic.

And the man who will wear them is no stranger to controversy about his use of the red, white and blue.

Four years ago, at the Sydney Olympics, Greene and his three teammates on the gold-medal winning 400-meter relay squad -- Jon Drummond, Brian Lewis and Bernard Williams -- caused an uproar with the way they celebrated at the medal ceremony. They flexed muscles, stuck out tongues, wore the American flag as a cape and a headdress, and preened on the podium even as Henry Kissinger was presenting their medals.

Their behavior was so ugly-American that it became Exhibit A in training current U.S. athletes how not to behave at a time and in a country where all things American are not appreciated.

Greene apologized again Tuesday for his actions in Sydney, but said they were not pre-meditated. "You can't predict," he said. "I don't know what goes through an athlete's mind when he wins a gold medal. You don't know what that person's going to do after he wins a gold medal.

"It's just, your emotions are going off and you can't control that. I'll guarantee this, an athlete is not trying to offend anyone."

But if Greene defends either of his Olympic titles -- he also won the 100-meter race -- he seems likely to find some unusual way to celebrate.

Last spring, after winning the 100 at a meet at the Home Depot Center in Carson, he took off his shoes at the finish line and sprayed them with water -- theatrically dousing the imaginary fire coming from them.

There's no guarantee of such a victory here, however.

Since winning the U.S. Olympic trials, Greene has been defeated twice -- in the same week -- by 21-year-old Asafa Powell of Jamaica.

Greene on Tuesday dismissed those results, saying, "It doesn't mean anything."

One-day meets, he added, in no way should be construed as predictors of what will happen during two pressure-packed days of Olympic qualifying and competing.

While acknowledging Powell was "a good athlete," Greene said Powell had been racing at his peak potential while "I'm still working on things and getting better."

In case there was any confusion -- "I don't understand the debate. I'm the best sprinter in history," Greene told reporters -- he rolled up his shirt sleeve to display a tattoo on his right biceps: a lion's head and, entwined in the lion's mane, the letters "G O A T."

"Greatest of all time," he explained.

"I've run 50 sub-10 [second] races. I've done more than any other sprinter before me. What do you call a person who has surpassed what everybody has done before him? You call him the best."

And if he should win a second 100-meter Olympic gold, or add a second 400-meter relay gold to his collection?

"That's just an exclamation point," he said.

With some kind of celebration coming for sure.

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