They met six years ago on the eve of the Texas Relays, two fast kids with no money and big dreams, eating cheap fried chicken and biscuits together in Austin on a windy April evening and woofing about how they were going to beat Carl Lewis in the 100 meters the next day. They were 20 years old, Maurice Greene from Kansas City, Kans., and Tim Montgomery from Gaffney, S.C., callow sprinters plotting to take down the biggest name in track and field, blissfully naive and unshakably confident.
The next afternoon, Greene stunningly outran Lewis in a strongly wind-aided 9.88 seconds to give an unmistakable glimpse of the talent that would soon blossom spectacularly. "I remember Maurice throwing up after the race," says Montgomery, who finished fourth that day. In the years that followed, their careers took different paths. Greene broke the world record (running 9-79 in 1999) and won two world tides and the 2000 Olympic gold medal, thereby earning a spot on any list of the greatest sprinters. Montgomery ran fast (9-92 in 1997) but was left in Greene's slipstream.
They met again on Sunday in the final of the 100 meters at the World Track and Field Championships in Edmonton, lined up in adjacent lanes on a rust-colored track striped with late afternoon shadows. In the weeks leading to the worlds, Montgomery had become a genuine player in the sprint game, a threat to Greene's dominance, having run 9.84 last month in Oslo, the fastest time in the world this year before Edmonton. "I know I'm faster than Maurice," Montgomery said before the final. "I know my time is coming." He talked of a 9.75.
The matchup gave the meet a needed jolt. Last weekend's events at the first world championships staged in North America played to a half-empty Commonwealth Stadium (capacity 40,000), and yet another doping scandal hung over the proceedings, as 5,000-meter runner Olga Yegorova of Russia was suspended and then reinstated over a positive test for the banned—and popular—hormone erythropoietin (EPO).
Monday evening brought a far greater shock, when 2000 Olympic 100-meter champion Marion Jones, winner of 42 consecutive finals and undefeated since 1997 in the 100, was beaten by Zhanna Pintusevich-Block of Ukraine in one of the biggest upsets in track and field history. Jones's dominance of the 100 was best measured by the margin of her Sydney victory, .37 of a second, the widest such spread in 48 years. Women's sprinting had become her playground, and defeat seemed unthinkable.
However, in 2001 Jones, weary from her Olympic campaign and going through a divorce from husband C.J. Hunter, had appeared a little less invincible. Her best 100 had been 10.84, well off her best of 10.65.
After surprising Jones in the semifinals Monday afternoon, Pintusevich-Block beat her out of the blocks in the final. Jones closed but lacked her usual killing finish. At the end Jones staggered forward in a desperate lean, but Pintusevich-Block, a finger raised in triumph, was the clear winner, in a personal best of 10.82. It was a particularly delicious victory, given that Pintusevich-Block had been narrowly beaten by Jones in the 1997 worlds final in Athens. As in Edmonton, Pintusevich-Block had celebrated, thinking she had won, but her exultation was short-lived. "I've dreamed about this for four years," she said.
"I didn't come here expecting to lose," a shocked Jones said on Monday evening, "but Zhanna was the better sprinter tonight. People get beat sometimes. It shows you're a champion when you can come back." She gets that chance on Friday, when in all likelihood she will run in the 200-meter final.
Barely 24 hours earlier, Montgomery spoke prophetically when he eyeballed Greene on the track moments before the start of the 100 and said, "Let's give these people what they came for."
"Let's do it," said Greene.