Maurice Greene: Fastest man into the new Millennium
From 1997 to 2001, Maurice Greene was quite simply the greatest male sprinter on the planet, winning a 100m gold medal at Sydney 2000, as well as three 100m world titles in a row. Remarkably, the American’s 60m indoor record stands to this day.
Initially coming to light in high school American football games, Maurice Greene’s sprinting talents
were recognised by the University of Kansas (USA), who offered him a track scholarship. He took part in his first major international athletics competition at the age of 20, finishing fourth over 60m at the IAAF World Indoor Championships in Barcelona (ESP) in March 1995.
Clocking his first sub-10 second time in the 100m that same year (albeit with a favourable tail wind), the American was selected to compete over the same distance at the 1995 IAAF World Championships in Gothenburg, where he was eliminated in the quarter-finals. The following year, he failed to qualify for the Atlanta Games from the US national trials, and subsequently left his native Kansas to join up with renowned sprinting coach John Smith in California
World’s fastest man
Developing the “drive phase”, a pioneering strategy that consisted of keeping the head down to
build speed more efficiently and delaying proper acceleration until after the 65-metre mark, Greene began a record series of 53 sub-10 second 100m performances in 1997, including a breakthrough World Championship victory on 3 August in Athens, where he defeated reigning Olympic champion Donovan Bailey (CAN) in 9.86.
On 3 February 1998 in Madrid, Greene set a new 60m indoor world record of 6.39, a benchmark which is yet to be surpassed. In the summer of 1999, he broke the 100m world record in Athens, recording an astounding time of 9.79 that would last six years. Later that year, at the Worlds in Seville, he retained his 100m title in 9.80, and added the 200m (19.90) and 4x100m relay (37.59) crowns for good measure, becoming the first sprinter to achieve this triple feat.
Supreme in Sydney
“After succeeding in something, I always told myself, ‘now that’s over and done with; let’s move onto the next challenge’,” said Greene. “I’ve never rested on my laurels. I’ve always wanted to do better.” It was with this mindset that the world champion travelled to the Sydney Games, in search of an Olympic gold that would represent the pinnacle of his career.
On 23 September 2000, after registering the fastest time of the semi-finals, he lined up for the final in lane 5. Putting his successful race strategy into action, he pulled away in the final third to cross the line in 9.87, ahead of Ato Bolton (TTO) and Obadele Thompson (BAR), who finished in 9.99 and 10.04 respectively.
A few days later, he collected his second Olympic title, anchoring the US team to a 4x100m relay triumph in 37.61, ahead of Brazil and Cuba.
Further medals in Athens
After claiming a third successive World Championship 100m title in Edmonton (CAN) in 2001 with a blistering 9.82, Greene endured an injury-ravaged conclusion to his career. Despite this, he earned a spot at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, where he took bronze in his specialised event, finishing just two 100th of a second behind winner Justin Gatlin (USA). In the relay, an American quartet including Greene had to make do with silver medals, having been pipped to the gold by Great Britain.
Life after the track
After hanging up his running shoes in 2008, Greene appeared as a contestant on Dancing with the Stars and presented his own sports programme, Greene Light. In 2014, he returned to the athletics world, signing an agreement to coach Nigeria’s relay teams. Looking back on his glorious career, he said: “I try not to regard one medal as more valuable as another, because each one is very precious. They all have a different significance, a separate place in my heart. It’s like when you have children – it’s just not possible to have a favourite!”