SYDNEY, Australia - HSI, the Los Angeles-based track and field club, combines speed with performance art. Its newest member is playing the part of understudy, as Bernard Williams is among the tiny majority in the Olympic Village who don't know if they'll get to compete in the Games.
The 1997 graduate of Baltimore's Carver High, Williams finds himself in the middle of a controversy that is as old as America's participation in the Olympics themselves.
The United States' men's 400-meter relay team is always good for a squabble, and Williams is a new member of HSI. The team produced the three men who will represent the United States in the open 100 later this week, and it wants Williams to join them on the relay team.
"I'm kind of on a roller-coaster ride," Williams said this morning. "I don't want to get my hopes up too high. I'm just staying patient, waiting for the ride to happen."
John Chaplin, the head coach of the U.S. track and field team, added Williams to his roster as part of the relay pool. Chaplin said that he will decide the makeup of the 400 relay team after the 100, which concludes Saturday. Assistant coach John Moon oversaw a relay practice Monday that saw world-record holder and Olympic favorite Maurice Greene walk out in a huff. Chaplin has said Greene and Jon Drummond are the only sure things on the relay team.
Curtis Johnson, the other HSI member who will represent the United States in the Olympic 100, has had a poor summer since finishing second at the trials, and there is speculation his chances of being on the team aren't as good as Williams'. During a news conference at the Sydney Media Center yesterday, the HSI camp went to great lengths to mention that Johnson beat Greene and Drummond in a recent workout.
"I really don't think I have any influence," Greene said.
With Williams running second, HSI won in Berlin three weeks ago in 37.65 seconds, the fastest time ever outside the world championships or Olympics, and the team has predicted a world record if it can represent the United States.
A native of Kansas City, Greene took a liking to Williams when the Baltimorean went to Barton County Community College and immediately established himself as the best junior-college sprinter in the nation.
Williams won the NCAA title for Florida in June. After Williams tightened up and finished seventh at the trials, he turned pro. Competing last month in Europe after a long collegiate season, he tried to impress Chaplin and Moon.
"I worked to make it my business to beat every individual involved," Williams said. "I beat Maurice [Greene] in Gateshead. I beat Jon [Drummond] in Brussels. I beat Brian Lewis in Brussels. The only guy I haven't beaten is Tim Montgomery, and that's because we only met a couple of times, at the trials and in Berlin."
Lewis and Montgomery are American veterans who beat Williams at the U.S. trials and feel that they deserve spots on the relay team. Dissent, politics and poor baton passes have led the United States to win the event only once in the last three Olympics. The gold medal came in 1992, when Carl Lewis was sixth in the trials, but joined some Santa Monica Track Club teammates in the relay final.
"I'm aware of the history," Williams said. "The U.S. has always had excellent sprinters, and it's a hard decision. There's a lot of talent and not enough spots. Hopefully, I'll be one of the ones who is fortunate to run and get a gold medal. I'd be a little disappointed if I didn't get to run, but I feel blessed just to be here."