SYDNEY, Australia - The showboat in James Carter came out last night. Hewould love to display that side of his personality again tomorrow.
Carter usually comes across as a quiet, reserved type, and he barely getsnoticed among the stars and drug scandal on the U.S. track and field team. Heis no longer an unknown in the 400-meter hurdles, however, as he easily wonhis Olympic semifinal. He will race tomorrow's final in front of another crowdof nearly 110,000 at Olympic Stadium and a long, long way from Mervo High.
Carter was booed as he crossed the finish line in his semifinal. In commandof a race that included Zambia's Sam Matete, one of the event's reveredpractitioners the past decade, Carter slowed down with 20 meters to go andwaved to the men trailing him with a gesture that said, "C'mon, what's keepingyou?" In the absence of C. J. Hunter, Carter drew scorn from some who werelooking for an American to hiss.
"That was my message to the world, to let it know I'm ready," Carter said."I'm not here just for the running. I'm here to go for a medal, just likeeveryone else. Once I got over the last hurdle in control, I decided to savesomething."
Things have rarely come that easily for Carter.
A myasthenia gravis foundation wants him as a spokesman because Cartersuffered from the neuromuscular disease as a pre-teen and had his thymusremoved. The city is only now getting around to constructing a track at Mervo,which nonetheless built a state-championship team around Carter. He wasdeclared academically ineligible at Hampton University a year ago, and islooking for a new professional club affiliation.
A dispute with his agent led Carter to miss the lucrative European circuitin August. Olympic prognosticators wondered what became of him, but returningto Hampton and training with Maurice Pierce, one of the university'sassistants, may have been the best thing that could have happened.
His semifinal time of 48.48 was bettered by five men, most notably SaudiArabia's Hadi Souan Somalyi and South Africa's Llewellyn Herbert, the men whowill flank him when he settles into Lane 5 at 5:35 a.m., Baltimore time,tomorrow. His lifetime best, 48.46, is the slowest in the eight-man final, butmuch of the competition is dragging at the end of a long season. Was there anybenefit to his two-month layoff from serious racing?
"It's starting to look that way," Carter said. "I don't know if there'sanything to that, but it's sure shaping up that way. ... I'm in good enoughshape to run 47.8 or 47.9."
Carter, who came into 2000 with a lifetime best of 49.45 seconds, lookedstrong in Sunday's first round and drew Lane 3 in the third semifinal. The toptwo finishers in each semifinal advanced, along with the next two fastesttimes, and Carter was ready to run considerably quicker on a cool, still nightwhen some of the sport's greatest stars were out.
"I'm from Baltimore," Carter said. "I'm used to cold weather. I ran in thisfor four years in high school, and I'm not affected by it."
In light of the news that shot-putter Hunter, Marion Jones' husband, hadtested positive for drugs, the day was painful for USA Track & Field, thesport's national governing body. It was absolutely splendid for Baltimoretrack and field, as another 22-year-old from the city was one of the menselected to join Maurice Greene on the American 400 relay team. BernardWilliams ran for Carver High, and tangled with Carter in the occasional 200 in1996.
"That's very neat that the city of Baltimore has two Olympians," saidCarter, who is the first product of a local high school to compete in Olympictrack and field since Dulaney's Bob Wheeler in the 1,500 in 1972. Douglassalumnus Cliff Wiley qualified in the 200 in 1980, but didn't get to competebecause of an American boycott of the Moscow Games.
That Olympics was the only one since 1972 in which the 400 hurdles goldmedalist didn't come from the United States. The event has produced the likesof Edwin Moses, who won in 1976 and 1984, and Kevin Young, who set a worldrecord in 1992 that still stands.
The throng at Olympic Stadium knows nothing of Carter's underdogbackground. He has his mother, Marilyn Knight, here to cheer him on, but didhe think he had turned the rest of the crowd against him?
"I'm in Australia," Carter said. "They were booing us before we evenstarted competing, when we marched in the opening ceremonies. It's me againstthe world."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun