A story in the July 12 Sports section should have indicated that the top four finishers in the men's 100-meter dash at the U.S. Olympic trials were separated by eight-hundredths of a second. (Published 7/13/04)

There went Tim Montgomery, out the same gate as his girlfriend Sunday, done for the day. Done for the Olympics.

The mob followed him for a while, the way they followed Marion Jones, another elite sprinter trying to outrun drug allegations.

Then someone mentioned Maurice Greene was coming into the interview tent, and everyone went the other way, veering off -- much like the careers of the world's fastest human and the man who used to hold that crown.

Maurice Greene won an absolute scorcher Sunday afternoon, a 100-meter race in which four men ran less than 10 seconds. He did it in a scintillating 9.91 seconds. The second- and third-place guys, Justin Gatlin and Shawn Crawford, came in at 9.92 seconds and 9.93 seconds.

Did you see this race, or at least the replay? One through four were separated by eight-tenths of a second, and the photo finish confirmed what every one of the 22,107 in attendance knew: After all the pre-steroid buildup, all the drug talk that permeated these U.S. Olympic trials, something about the need for speed makes us see past the unseemly side of athletic excellence.

Sometimes, all the special cream, pills and synthetic chemists in the world cannot detract from eight uberhumans lining up and taking off like bottle rockets.

They said this was one of the greatest 100-meter fields of all time. They, of course, are the visor-wearing people of TrackWorld, who dream in split times and can tell you who dropped the baton in Melbourne, if not Stockholm. Believe them and you are spared the wrath of the 18 manuals in their workbags.

Or you can believe Coby Miller, who actually ran in the race and missed out on one of the three Olympic spots by six-tenths of a second.

"I've never been a part of a field like that, where so many guys just had so many credentials coming in," the fourth-place finisher said.

Only 11 people in the history of the event have run under 9.90 -- and two of them were on that track.

If this country has a special affinity for fast cars and fast food, we also have a hankering for blazing sprinters, a virtual wealth of which to choose from.

In what other nation does the world record holder finish seventh? Which is what Montgomery did, coming in at 10.13 seconds. Where else do they effectively say, "We don't need the world record holder in Athens. We'll be fine."

Greene is also a fast talker, his speech often wind-aided. He is one of the great preeners and poseurs of our time. Remember the four relay characters who hijacked dignity at the 2000 Games, mugging for the cameras for minutes on end, flexing like 12-year-olds do in the mirror at home? He was the guy holding the Stars & Stripes behind him, a little more reserved than his teammates, but a major affront to class nonetheless.

Someone asked if this group could win the 4x100 relay in Athens. Greene looked incredulously at the man.

"Possible? Only way we don't win gold is if we drop the baton," he said. "I guarantee we'll win gold."

Only two months ago, Greene ran a wind-aided 9.78 in Carson, Calif. After the race, he had arranged for a friend to rush onto the track and douse his running shoes with a fire extinguisher -- just for the effect. When Montgomery bested his world record in 2001, Greene called him "the luckiest man in the world."

With all this anti-American sentiment around the world, you only hope he does not go overboard in Athens. Or at least his more-subdued teammates could bring T-shirts that read, "I'm not with the American egocentric sprinters. I'm Canadian."

Either way, he is good theater. And his brashness detracts from the truth: The man is just flat-out good, easily the most consistent and accomplished sprinter since Carl Lewis.

Since Lewis's 9.86 world record in 1991, only four men have been swifter -- and Greene has run faster four times in the past five years.

And he has a comeback story of some renown. Four months after Montgomery broke his world record, Greene was sideswiped by a car while riding his motorcycle to practice in Los Angeles. He learned his leg was broken after driving himself to the hospital.

Injury upon injury ruined his next two years of training. The man who won gold in Sydney eventually dropped to No. 9 in the world, his crown up for grabs until he completed his turnaround Sunday afternoon.

On the other end of the track, Montgomery was long gone.

A woman stopped him before he disappeared, telling Montgomery, "Tim, you're the greatest."

"Thank you, I'm going to show you, too," said the man whom the United States Anti-Doping Agency wants banned for life.

"How?" a reporter asked.

"This ain't my last race, man," he said.

Maybe not, but the bet here is the world's fastest human baton was handed off for good.

Maurice Greene, not Tim Montgomery, was the only man making a clean getaway.

Maurice Greene, who won gold medal in Sydney, veers off after finishing first in the 100, one of four runners who rocketed in under 10 seconds.