The first thing out of Maurice Greene's mouth after winning the 100-meter final at the world track and field championships tonight was not an exclamation of elation or delight.
He uttered a curse word.
Greene captured the gold medal at Olympic Stadium in a blazing 9.80 seconds, a mere hundredth of a second off the world record he set in June. But he stumbled at the start and nearly lost his world title despite running against what was considered--clearly incorrectly--a weak field.
Earlier, fellow U.S. sprinter Marion Jones also successfully defended her world title in the 100, winning in a world championship record of 10.70 seconds. Like Greene, Jones faced unexpectedly heavy competition, in her case from U.S. teammate Inger Miller, who ran a personal-best 10.79 to win the silver.
Emboldened by her performance, Miller vowed this to be a start of a rivalry with Jones that would last through the 2000 Olympics in Sydney.
Men's silver medalist Bruny Surin of Canada issued a similar challenge after his near upset of Greene. Surin's time of 9.84 equaled the previous world record held by his countryman, Donovan Bailey, who did not compete because of injury.
"I'm confident 100 percent that I can run faster than that," Surin said. "So it's going to be very interesting next year for Sydney."
Whether two new rivalries were born, or whether two champions were just getting warmed up, will be determined throughout the next year. At least for tonight, the fast times and fierce finishes made for great drama in a pair of races that seemed likely to be duds.
They were anything but. In the women's race, the top six finishers all finished in under 11 seconds. Greece's Ekaterini Thanou won the bronze in 10.84 seconds.
"It's wonderful for women's athletics that we have women now consistently running fast times," said Jones, 23, who intends to win three more gold medals in the long jump, 200 meters and 4x100 relay. "It's no walk in the park anymore."
Perhaps Greene, 25, who wants two more world golds in the 200 and 4x100 relay, warmed up for this come-from-behind victory by chasing down the airport thief who tried to steal a duffle bag from U.S. hurdler Larry Wade as the two arrived in town last week. Greene recovered the bag and managed the same sort of burst tonight.
The difference between Greene's race and Jones's came at the start. Jones flew out of the blocks and Greene came out like he was stuck in cement. Jones moved to the lead by about 30 meters and remained strong throughout. Greene misstepped as he tried to accelerate, immediately falling behind several challengers--including the high-striding Surin, in the lane next to Greene, and bronze medalist Dwain Chambers of England.
"I believe, if I didn't stumble, that would be the fastest" 100 ever, Greene said. "I didn't panic at all. When I finally started moving, I was just thinking: I can come back and get them. . . . This one was a lot more tough [than winning the title in 1997]. Everyone believed it would be a cakewalk for me, but Bruny gave me a great race. I believe we put on a wonderful show."
Once Greene caught up to Surin, the two ran together nearly stride for stride. At about 70 meters, Greene moved ahead. Or, rather, as Surin described his own performance, he choked.
Surin said he thought he had the race in the bag. And that's when Greene blew by.
"I made a big mistake," Surin said. "I panicked. I got excited too soon instead of staying relaxed. But now it gives me a lot of confidence for next year. Hopefully, I can run a 9.7."
Surin, 32, has twice been the world indoor champion in the 60 meters and has won the Canadian title in the 100 six times. He finished second at the 100 in the outdoor worlds in 1995, but fell to seventh in 1997.
Notably absent from the men's field were Bailey and Ato Boldon, the world champion in the 200 meters who could not compete because of a thigh injury. Shortly before the race, Frankie Fredericks of Namibia also withdrew, for an undisclosed reason.
Miller, 27, is the daughter of Jamaican Olympian Lennox Miller, who won two Olympic medals in the 100. In January, she joined track coach John Smith and his Los Angeles-based training group, which includes Greene and Boldon. In the two days of qualifying leading up to the final, Miller twice lowered her personal best, which was 11.02 entering this meet.
"As you saw tonight, it wasn't a one-woman show," Miller said. "Everyone's kind of stepped up to another level. . . . It's just who is best on that day. Marion was today. We will see what happens in the future."
Jones's gold makes it two--thus far--in the family.
Her husband, shot putter C.J. Hunter, won the gold in his event Saturday night. Dressed in a floppy hat, a gray tank top and sandals, the 330-pound Hunter cheered on Jones tonight.
"The goal this week is to get a total of five, and we started off in wonderful fashion," Jones said. Hunter's gold "was very big motivation for me."