SYDNEY, Australia - Bernard Williams is in for 10 more nervous days. His anxiety doesn't concern how he'll perform at the Olympics, but whether he'll get to run the 400-meter relay for the United States.
A 1996 graduate of Carver High, Williams has been one of America's most consistent sprinters this year. He won the NCAA 100 title in June and beat world-record holder Maurice Greene in August. His one major slip occurred at the U.S. trials in July, however, when he finished seventh, adding intrigue to a selection process that won't be finalized until Sept.23 at the earliest.
That's when the final of the men's 100 meters will be held. Greene is the favorite. Jon Drummond, the veteran from Philadelphia, has an outside chance at a medal. If Curtis Johnson continues the slide he's been in since he was runner- up at the trials and doesn't make the final, it would enhance Williams' chances of competing and make him Baltimore's best chance for a gold medal.
Williams began the trials as a Florida collegian, but he then turned pro and is affiliated with HSI, the Los Angeles club that includes the three men who swept the trials 100.
Two weeks ago in Berlin, Williams joined Greene, Drummond and Johnson on a 400 relay that was timed in 37.65 seconds, the fastest ever outside the Olympics or world championships. Greene and the HSI camp have been politicking to have that foursome remain intact.
"Everyone has an opinion," U.S. coach John Chaplin said. "My mother probably has an opinion. We're going to wait until after the 100 to decide our lineup. If they [Greene, Johnson and Drummond] go 1-2-3, I've got a different decision than if they go 1-2-11, or if one of them goes down with an injury. The day after the 100 is over, we'll tell."
Once invincible, the United States has won the 400 relay only once in the past three Olympics, and Chaplin knows that his performance as the American coach will be graded on the outcome of that event. In the interest of continuity and smooth baton exchanges, he intends to run the same foursome through all three rounds, which means fewer medals to go around and a few more egos to massage.
Williams is the American wild card.
Brian Lewis was fourth at the U.S. trials, and believes he deserves a spot. He and Tim Montgomery joined Drummond and Greene for last year's world championships victory, and they'll team with two lesser candidates in a tuneup meet today at the Olympic warm-up track. Neither Lewis nor Montgomery had as solid a summer as Williams, who made an impression on John Moon, the assistant coach who oversees the U.S. sprinters.
"He's a much improved runner since the trials," said Moon, the coach at Seton Hall. "Of all the guys, I've seen him more than anyone this year. Physically, he's been there all year. Mentally, it's like a new game for him. He's been steady, durable through a long college season and right up until now. We know he's fast, but he's also showed his strength. That's a good combination."