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Last Updated: Monday, 23 August, 2004, 08:20 GMT 09:20 UK
Gatlin proves fastest gun
By Phil Gordos
BBC Sport in Athens

Justin Gatlin
Athens turned up the afterburners to ensure it was ready to host the 28th Olympiad.

But the pace with which they finished construction work was nothing compared to the frightening speed generated by the finalists for the men's 100m.

Until Sunday's dramatic events inside the Olympic Stadium, the 1991 World Championship final in Tokyo was widely regarded as the best 100m in history after six men ran under 10 seconds in the same race for the first time.

Carl Lewis came out on top that day in a world record 9.86secs, followed quickly home by Leroy Burrell (9.88), Denis Mitchell (9.91), Linford Christie (9.92), Frankie Fredericks (9.95) and Ray Stewart (9.96).

Only five managed to duck under the magical 10-second barrier in Athens, but four of them broke 9.9, the first occasion that has ever happened.

Perhaps the unusual build-up had something to do with the magnificent times.

The atmosphere was in danger of going flat until stadium officials began blasting 'Syrtaki', a traditional Greek song, over the loudspeakers.

Almost immediately, the crowd roared into life.

I knew it was close but I felt real good
Justin Gatlin

Several athletes responded too, world champion Kim Collins clapping his hands in rhythm to the music and Francis Obikwelu dancing a jig.

But, noticeably, the Americans refused to enter the party spirit.

Maurice Greene continued to twitch and prowl, Shawn Crawford sat motionless behind his blocks, and Justin Gatlin paced up and down in deep concentration.

As for Asafa Powell, one of the pre-race favourites, he looked ill at ease, unsure what to make of it all.

Greene later reflected that the atmosphere had been an inspiration rather than a hindrance.

"The electricity was enormous," said the Sydney gold medallist.

"The crowd were getting into it. They were getting us prepared to run in one of the greatest races of all time.

"And if you weren't ready, they got you ready."

Greene had to settle for the bronze this time round, but the 30-year-old from Kansas City insisted his career is still very much alive.

"It's not all over for me," said the three-time world champion. "I don't feel my time is past. I ran the best race I possibly could."

It's not all over for me. I don't feel my time is past
Maurice Greene

Greene, who has run 54 times under 10 seconds, clocked 9.87 but still finished behind fellow American Justin Gatlin and second-placed Obikwelu.

Gatlin clocked 9.85secs, a personal best, while Portugal's Obikwelu was just a hundredth of a second adrift.

"I knew I had won when I crossed the finishing line," insisted the 22-year-old Gatlin.

"I knew it was close but I felt really good."

Chasing home Gatlin, Obikwelu and Greene was another American, Shawn Crawford.

Amazingly, he missed out on a medal despite running 9.89secs, with Powell (9.94) fifth and Collins (10.00) sixth.

Gatlin clearly had some sympathy for Crawford, his training partner, but the new Olympic champion was not about to get sentimental.

"Shawn will bounce back," said Gatlin, who prepared for life in the fast lane by hurdling fire hydrants in Brooklyn. "He doesn't stay down for long."

Maybe not, but Crawford now knows how Christie felt 13 years ago, the Briton running 9.92secs but still finishing off the podium.



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