Put it this way: They won't be clubbing together in Sydney. Each
man came out of their acrimonious 200-meter showdown on July 23
with an injured hamstring and a decidedly negative vibe. Johnson
was angry that he let himself be drawn into unseemly trash talk.
"It was way, way beneath me, and I didn't enjoy it," he said. The
impetuous Greene had no such regrets. "I went back to my hotel
room and laughed every night," he said of the days leading up to
the final. "It was funny, seeing Michael Johnson get rattled like
that." Not finishing the race, however, rankled Greene, because
it gave the impression he couldn't deal with the heat he'd
The two sprinters still diverge--at his core, Johnson is a pure
professional; Greene a pure performer--but they'll share the men's
track spotlight in Sydney. For Johnson, who turns 33 on Sept. 13,
the 400 meters may be the final act of a brilliant 12-year
international career. "In my opinion he's the greatest athlete
ever in track and field," says Roger Black of Great Britain, 1996
silver medalist behind Johnson in the 400. Johnson's world record
of 19.32 for the 200 at the Atlanta Games is considered by many
to be the greatest track performance in history, and last summer
he ran 43.18 in the 400, taking down Butch Reynolds's 11-year-old
world mark in that event. Johnson is the only man to have doubled
in the 200 and 400 at the Olympics. "And he no doubt generated
more money than any [track] athlete in history," says Black. If
Carl Lewis was the first to command big appearance fees, Johnson
became the first track athlete-businessman when he signed an
unprecedented six-year, $12 million contract with Nike in '97.
Yet Johnson has always spoken most eloquently with his feet, and
he wants to deliver a dignified, memorable valedictory. "I just
want to go win," he says. "I also want to run [under 43 seconds]
before I leave the sport, and I would love to do that in Sydney.
That would be a nice way to end my Olympic career."
Greene, 26, has more work left in the resume department. Even
Johnson acknowledges that Greene is "the best 100-meter runner
I've ever seen," a squat, powerful, fast-twitch machine perfectly
suited to the explosive short sprint. He owns the world record
(9.79) and two world titles at the distance and has broken 10
seconds 30 times, more than any other sprinter in history. But he
needs much more. "Everybody knows who Carl Lewis is, but nobody
knows Calvin Smith, and he ran very fast," says Greene, referring
to a world-record holder from the early 1980s who never won an
Olympic 100. "The fact is, I'm going to have to be around for a
while and keep winning and keep running very fast. I'm going to
have to get my Olympic gold medal." Greene is also building a
10,000-square-foot home outside Los Angeles, so he needs to keep
Less than three weeks after pulling up in the trials Greene
scorched a 9.94 in Zurich and told the media, "I'm baaaaack."
Johnson made his return in Brussels on Aug. 25 and won the 400 in
44.07. Each will earn an individual gold in Sydney, but they'll
leave a question forever unanswered: Who would have won the 200?
COLOR PHOTO: BILL FRAKES NO SLOW MO Greene knows that he needs to win the Olympic 100 to earn his place among history's greatest sprinters.