SYDNEY, Australia - Literally and figuratively, the track and field careerof James Carter moves into a different time zone tomorrow.
A 22-year-old graduate of Mervo High, Carter is one of the most unlikelymembers of an American track team that expects to make a solid medal haul atthe Olympics. He is a second faster than he was a year ago, but theprognosticators aren't giving him good odds in the 400-meter hurdles, whichbegin tomorrow.
Carter was pretty much a nobody in his event in 1999, and he remains amystery man. His major international meet debut will come at 110,000-seatOlympic Stadium, and he hasn't been in a serious race since he qualified thirdat the U.S. trials July 22.
"I am here to prove all of the critics wrong," Carter said this week. "Onceagain, I'm predicted not to do anything. Track and Field News noted that Ididn't run any races in August. That's OK. I'm fit, I'm healthy."
Part of the reason Carter didn't race in August can be traced to a disputewith his former agent. He has had plenty of time to practice since he loweredhis personal best to 48.46 seconds at the trials. Has the time off also put achip on his shoulder?
"Nah, I just use that stuff as comic relief," he said. "I say to myself,'Oh, you don't think I can do so and so,' and I laugh. I expect it. No oneexpects me to do anything. They didn't expect me to make the team."
Carter went to Hampton University, but he is now a pro. For the past threeweeks, he has been following a training plan that was prepared for him by aHampton assistant coach, Maurice Pierce. His workouts in Australia have beenmonitored by Bubba Thornton, an assistant on the American coaching staff.
"He [Thornton] asks me every day, 'What's the workout?'" Carter said. "Hetimes me. I don't look at it as being a weird situation. In the end, thefeedback, it's me."
Carter is capable of making the final, and there is no invincible figure inthe field like Edwin Moses or Kevin Young, who established the world record inthe event eight years ago. The field includes three men who have run under 48seconds this year, the fastest being fellow American Angelo Taylor at 47.62seconds. South Africa's Llewellyn Herbert and Eric Thomas of the United Statesare the others.
"I always knew I could run with him," Carter said of Taylor. "It's a matterof trusting what I've done since the trials. I know Angelo will be ready, buthe may not be the one to beat."
A former Baltimore rival could join Carter in the meet, as Carver graduateBernard Williams was waiting for the aftermath of today's 100, which will havean impact on the American 400-meter relay team. Williams runs for HSI, the LosAngeles-based club that sent favorite Maurice Greene, Jon Drummond and CurtisJohnson into the semifinals. HSI wants Williams to join those three and makeup the American 400 relay.
Williams is listed on the American roster, but may have to wait untilMonday to learn his fate.
Carter will become the first graduate of a Baltimore area high school tocompete in Olympic track and field since 1972, when Bob Wheeler ran in the1,500 meters two years out of Dulaney High. Douglass High grad Cliff Wileyqualified in the 400 for the 1980 Olympics, which the United States boycotted.
"Every day I see something here that makes me say, 'Wow,'" Carter said.