SYDNEY, Australia - Two months of waiting ended in happy news for Bernard Williams today. Now he has to get the baton safely around the track.
A 1997 graduate of Baltimore's Carver High, Williams was selected to the U.S. men's 400-meter relay team, which is favored to win track and field gold at 110,000-seat Olympic Stadium on Saturday. Williams had traveled halfway around the world as an alternate on the U.S. team. And now he won't have to be a spectator any longer.
"This is what I came here for," Williams said.
Williams is slated to run the third leg for the American men. Jon Drummond will lead off, Tim Montgomery will run second and Williams will hand off to Maurice Greene, the Olympic champion and world-record holder in the 100. U.S. coach John Chaplin has wanted to use the same foursome in all three rounds, but he said that Greene complained to him of soreness and intimated that the world's fastest human may sit out the first round.
Chaplin was asked whether Greene's soreness was physical or mental. Greene, Drummond and Williams trained together in Los Angeles under the HSI banner, and wanted a fourth member of that club, Curtis Johnson, to be on the American relay. Johnson didn't even make the six-man pool, as the U.S. alternates are Brian Lewis and Kenny Brokenburr.
In effect, Williams replaced Lewis in the lineup that won the 1999 world championship. The HSI camp is angry over Johnson's exclusion, but Lewis and Brokenburr were also disappointed. Lewis would run the first round if Greene passes, whether from pain or protest.
"We have seven people, six slots and only four can run," Chaplin said. "We've got some angry people. If they weren't upset, they wouldn't be normal."
The NCAA champion and one of only seven men to run under 10 seconds this year, Williams has had few poor races in 2000. One of them came in the U.S. trials, when he finished seventh. He promptly renounced his remaining year of eligibility at Florida and joined HSI, the agency that won gold and silver in the Olympic 100 in the form of Greene and Trinidad and Tobago's Ato Boldon.
The HSI foursome of Drummond, Williams, Johnson and Greene won a meet in Berlin earlier this month with the fastest 400-relay time ever outside the Olympics and world championships. Lewis and Montgomery wanted to break up the group, but only the latter got in.
Despite being the fastest man in the NCAA this year and on the junior college level before that, Williams was last used as an anchor at Carver. Coaches consider him a good stick-handler, and they want him to both receive and hand off a baton. He ran the second leg on Florida's NCAA 400-relay champions, and last ran the third leg for Barton County (Kan.) Community College in 1999.
Williams and his teammates will be under considerable pressure, and the relay lineup was the biggest decision facing Chaplin. The U.S. used to own the 400 relay, but it has won the gold medal just once in the past three Olympics. It dropped the baton in an early round in 1988 and finished second to Canada in 1996.
The first round of the race will be run Friday morning, with the semifinal that evening. The final will be run Saturday.