A LONG GRAY LINE
At 39, half-miler Johnny Gray is charging toward his fifth
For last weekend's indoor national track and field championships
in Atlanta, 39-year-old half-miler Johnny Gray let his beard
grow into a scraggly, salt-and-pepper stubble. It was Carl
Lewis's idea. "Carl told me to let my opponents see the gray
hair, let the young guys think I'm an old man and then beat
them," said Gray. He didn't beat them last Saturday at the
Georgia Dome, finishing a close third in the 800 meters behind
26-year-old Bryan Woodward and Khadevis Robinson, 23. But Gray
did close an indoor season that was promising enough to suggest
that at the U.S. trials in Sacramento in July, he will be a
genuine threat to become the first American man to make five
Olympic track and field teams.
His presence stretches credulity. Gray has been an international
competitor for 21 years and has run 14 of the 20 fastest
800-meter times in U.S. history, including the American record
of 1:42.60, set in 1985. The sight of Gray loping along at the
front of the pack, forcing a fast pace in an event that is a
killing, long sprint has been a fixture in U.S. track and field
for two decades. On the day before Saturday's final Gray sat on
a bench in the stadium and measured his career by the men he has
faced. "I ran against Alberto Juantorena, Mike Boit, Sebastian
Coe, Joaquim Cruz, Steve Ovett," he said, ticking off a Hall of
Fame of middle-distance runners, all long retired. Not only has
Gray made four Olympic teams, but he has also reached four
Olympic 800 finals and won a bronze medal in Barcelona in 1992.
"He was given an amazing gift," says Woodward. "There's really
been nobody else like Johnny."
Gray's days are built around training sessions with Santa Monica
Track Club coach-manager Joe Douglas (Gray split this year from
his longtime coach, Merle McGee) and attending the basketball
games and track meets of his two older sons, 16-year-old Johnny
III and 14-year-old Jared. (Gray and his wife, Judy, also have a
two-year-old son, Jaylon.) He receives a $35,000 annual stipend
from MET-Rx, a nutritional-supplements company, and another
$25,000 from Home Depot's Olympic Job Opportunity Program.
(Gray, who receives full company benefits, works 20 hours a week
on a truck that delivers construction supplies.) He hasn't had a
shoe contract since 1996. "Nobody wants me," says Gray. He
soldiers on not only because he can (which is remarkable enough)
but also because he knows and loves little else. He has been a
professional athlete for more than half his life. "I have no
idea what I will do when this is over," he says. He can put off
that decision until at least July.
MJ THINKS GOLD, NOT GREENE
Michael Johnson has made it clear that he will not be goaded
into a 200-meter race against Maurice Greene before the Olympic
trials. Last summer 100-meter world-record holder Greene accused
Johnson of ducking him and has regularly repeated that
challenge--to no avail.
Johnson understands why the topic won't die. "The talk is good
for the sport, and people like it," he said last weekend in
Atlanta, where he was on hand to do promotional work for one of
his sponsors. But racing Greene is low on Johnson's priority
list for two good reasons: 1) "It's an Olympic year," says
Johnson, who is aiming to repeat his Atlanta 200-400 double.
"That's what I've got to worry about"; and 2) Greene, despite
winning the 1999 world title in Seville, Spain, hasn't
established himself as being in Johnson's class in the deuce.
"Maurice has run 19.9 [in fact, Greene ran 19.86 in '97;
Johnson's world record, set a year before, is 19.32]," says
Johnson. "He might run faster, we don't know. But he hasn't yet.
He's never even beaten Ato [Boldon] in a 200, and Ato has never
beaten me." However, Greene did beat Johnson in a 200, in Eugene
in '98--albeit when Johnson was not yet in shape after injuries.
Johnson will make his outdoor debut in late March with three
races (two 200s and one 400) in South Africa.
Drummond Gets Serious
LOOKING FOR A STRONG FINISH
Over time, Jon Drummond has refined his vision of his career. "I
can finally see my potential," he said before winning the U.S.
indoor 60-meter title last Saturday. One wonders what might have
been had he opened his eyes earlier.
A decade ago Drummond was just a promising sprinter with a sweet
story to tell. He ran 10.10 in the 100 meters as a junior at
Texas Christian in 1990, and people learned that he had been
born with a mild form of spina bifida and was given little
chance of ever running fast. What's more, he sang with Kirk
Franklin & The Family, the best-selling gospel group. In the
ensuing years, instead of becoming a great sprinter, Drummond
became a character.
He ran the final of the 1993 world championships 4x100-meter
relay with a pick stuck in his hair (an adornment long presumed
to have been a result of brainlock but which Drummond now admits
was intentional). He ripped his shirt off after races and posed
down for fans, showing off what he called his "100 percent
steroidal-free body." Writers ran to him for quotes about other
sprinters. When Carl Lewis was lobbying for a place on the 1996
Olympic 4x100 team, Drummond provided a memorable--and
unassailable--analysis: Lewis was "butt-naked last at the
Drummond did enough on the track to be respected: He made the
'96 Olympic team in the 100 (but didn't make the Atlanta final)
and ran leadoff on the squad that took the silver medal in the
4x100 relay. Yet it was his personality that made him appealing
to fans and meet promoters. "In 1995 and '96, I was getting top
dollar to run in Europe, which was amazing for an athlete with
no individual world records," he says.
Meanwhile, training partners Ato Boldon and Maurice Greene were
leaving Drummond behind on the track. Boldon won two Olympic
medals in '96 and the world 200-meter title in '97; Green won
world 100-meter crowns in '97 and '99 and broke the world record
in the 100 when he ran 9.79 last summer. A year ago, at 30,
Drummond lost half his season when he became ill with spinal
meningitis. Though he led off the U.S. gold medal 4x100 relay at
the worlds in Seville, he failed to break 10 seconds in the 100
for the first time since '95. It was reasonable to assume that
Drummond was near the end of his career.
If so, he seems determined to close with a bang. His victory in
Atlanta came with Greene sitting at home in Los Angeles,
watching the race on television (Boldon is from Trinidad &
Tobago and could not race), but Drummond soundly beat Tim
Harden, who ran the fourth-fastest 100 in the world last year.
"I'm healthy, nothing hurts," Drummond says. "I'm ready to get
outdoors and train. I'm racing the clock now."
Hunter's Irish Gig
WIN ONE FOR THE @%!*$ GIPPER
World shot put champion C.J. Hunter, better known as Marion
Jones's jumbo-sized husband, is a die-hard Notre Dame football
fan who wrote several letters last summer and fall to Irish
coaches and administrators, asking for a chance to come to South
Bend and speak to the '99 team. The coaching staff finally
agreed to let Hunter address the team at practice in the week
leading to the Nov. 6 game against Tennessee. Hunter's abrasive
personality is well-known in the track world but was a shock to
Domers. "He must have said f--- 13 times in three minutes," says
one coach who heard the talk. "Everybody had their heads down
waiting for it to end." What's more, the Irish lost to Tennessee
COLOR PHOTO: SIMON BRUTY A close third in the indoor nationals, Gray is still setting the pace for American runners.
COLOR PHOTO: SIMON BRUTYDrummond, track's clown prince, turned serious with an indoor title in the 60 meters.