SYDNEY, Australia - Literally and figuratively, the track and field career of James Carter moves into a different time zone tomorrow.
A 22-year-old graduate of Mervo High, Carter is one of the most unlikely members of an American track team that expects to make a solid medal haul at the Olympics. He is a second faster than he was a year ago, but the prognosticators aren't giving him good odds in the 400-meter hurdles, which begin tomorrow.
Carter was pretty much a nobody in his event in 1999, and he remains a mystery man. His major international meet debut will come at 110,000-seat Olympic Stadium, and he hasn't been in a serious race since he qualified third at the U.S. trials July 22.
"I am here to prove all of the critics wrong," Carter said this week. "Once again, I'm predicted not to do anything. Track and Field News noted that I didn'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 dispute with his former agent. He has had plenty of time to practice since he lowered his personal best to 48.46 seconds at the trials. Has the time off also put a chip 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 one expects 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 three weeks, he has been following a training plan that was prepared for him by a Hampton assistant coach, Maurice Pierce. His workouts in Australia have been monitored by Bubba Thornton, an assistant on the American coaching staff.
"He [Thornton] asks me every day, 'What's the workout?'" Carter said. "He times me. I don't look at it as being a weird situation. In the end, the feedback, it's me."
Carter is capable of making the final, and there is no invincible figure in the field like Edwin Moses or Kevin Young, who established the world record in the event eight years ago. The field includes three men who have run under 48 seconds this year, the fastest being fellow American Angelo Taylor at 47.62 seconds. South Africa's Llewellyn Herbert and Eric Thomas of the United States are the others.
"I always knew I could run with him," Carter said of Taylor. "It's a matter of trusting what I've done since the trials. I know Angelo will be ready, but he may not be the one to beat."
A former Baltimore rival could join Carter in the meet, as Carver graduate Bernard Williams was waiting for the aftermath of today's 100, which will have an impact on the American 400-meter relay team. Williams runs for HSI, the Los Angeles-based club that sent favorite Maurice Greene, Jon Drummond and Curtis Johnson into the semifinals. HSI wants Williams to join those three and make up the American 400 relay.
Williams is listed on the American roster, but may have to wait until Monday to learn his fate.
Carter will become the first graduate of a Baltimore area high school to compete in Olympic track and field since 1972, when Bob Wheeler ran in the 1,500 meters two years out of Dulaney High. Douglass High grad Cliff Wiley qualified 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.