SYDNEY, Australia - Bernard Williams was to experience the bright-light pressure of track and field's Olympic relays without the benefit of a dry run.
A 1997 graduate of Carver High who is considered America's best young sprinter, Williams was held out of the first round of the 400-meter relay at Olympic Stadium today.
Two teammates were given a chance to run and join in the gold-medal glory; Williams would perform the rest of the way. He was set to go on the second leg in the first semifinal, which was to be contested at 5:50 a.m. Baltimore time today.
"He's going to impress a lot of people," said Maurice Greene, the American anchor. "Bernard knew he wasn't going to run the first round, but he's prepared."
For two months, the makeup of the American relay has been the subject of controversy and speculation. U.S. coach John Chaplin originally said he wanted to use the same foursome in all three rounds of the Olympic event.
That was fine with Greene and Williams, as long as it was a quartet from HSI, their Los Angeles-based club.
The American coaching staff refused to let HSI dominate the event. Chaplin said this week that he favored a foursome of Jon Drummond, Tim Montgomery, Williams and Greene.
Practices conducted by assistant coach John Moon confirmed that Williams would be better off running second, and yesterday it was announced that the lineup for the semifinals and final would be Drummond, Williams, Brian Lewis and Greene.
Drummond and Williams stepped aside in the first round, so that Kenny Brokenburr and Montgomery could run. Athletes who compete in the preliminaries of relays receive the same medal as their nation's finalists.
Brokenburr and Montgomery were followed by Lewis and Greene, the world-record holder and Olympic champion in the 100.
"The waiting game kept everyone under a lot of pressure," Lewis said. "I have confidence in Bernard. We've got quick legs and a lot of veterans on this team, and we'll work fine together."
The United States had the fastest first-round time, 38.15, among the 40 nations entered. One of its top challengers, Great Britain, was disqualified, and bad baton exchanges have haunted the Americans in international competitions.
Even if the United States wins both relays in tomorrow's feast of nine finals, it could finish with its lowest gold medal total ever in Olympic track and field.
The American men have three gold medals, from Greene, Michael Johnson in the 400 and Angelo Taylor in the 400 hurdles. That's one more than Marion Jones, who could have matched the men in a women's long jump final that was to begin at 4:20 a.m. Baltimore time today.
Even if Jones succeeded in the long jump, her "Drive for Five" gold medals could run into trouble tomorrow in the two relays.
With Inger Miller and Gail Devers out with injuries, the United States won its first-round heat of the 400 relay but had the fourth-fastest time.
Jamaica was nearly a half-second faster, but Jones is capable of making up much of that ground when she joins the Americans for the final. She also is the strongest leg on the 1,600 relay.