Updated: August 24, 2004 at 12:00 am
ATHENS, Greece - U.S. sprinter Justin Gatlin grabbed the mythical title of world’s fastest human by winning the Olympic 100 meters Sunday at Olympic Stadium, and Colorado resident Matt Hemingway came close to gold in the high jump before settling for a silver medal. Gatlin burst out of the starting blocks to grab a lead in the 100. He never lost it. Portugal’s Francis Obikwelu kicked into full speed down the stretch and briefly caught Gatlin with 10 meters to go. But Gatlin met Obikwelu’s challenge. He leaned across the line first (9.85 seconds), just ahead of Obikwelu (9.86) and Maurice Greene (9.87), the 2000 gold medalist. Five sprinters finished under 10 seconds, and sixthplace Aziz Zakari crossed the line at 10.0. After Gatlin crossed the line, he spent an instant by himself. Before his victory was official, he knew he reigned as the fastest man in the world on the night it mattered the most. He was surrounded by fellow sprinters and thousands of spectators. He felt as if he was by himself. “I felt 100 miles from everybody,” Gatlin said of his seconds of solitude. Then U.S. teammate Shawn Crawford embraced him. The sprinters train together and are close friends. “When he won,” Crawford said, “I felt like I won.” Crawford finished fourth at 9.89 but was angered by what he saw as his slow pace. “My race was terrible,” Crawford said. “My start was terrible.” The race had a long buildup in the packed stadium. Obikwelu danced and waved at the crowd. Greene pranced down his lane and stuck out his tongue. Gatlin didn’t indulge in flamboyance. He took a slow walk to the finish line, going through a checklist of the details needed to win. When he finished his walk at the finish line, he whispered, “This is where I’m going to celebrate my victory.” Trevor Graham, Gatlin’s coach, admitted publicly for the first time he is the coach who sent the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency a syringe containing designer steroid THG that triggered the BALCO scandal. “I was just a coach doing the right thing. No regrets,” Graham told the Orange Country Register, after Gatlin’s victory, of the scandal that has engulfed sports from track and field to the NFL and Major League Baseball. Greene had seen himself again standing atop the medal stand. He spent this year crowning himself as the Olympic champion, unwilling to discuss anything but a gold as a possibility. “When I win my gold medal . . .,” he said a few hours after arriving in Athens. But Greene was gracious after finishing third, saying “the young guys” ran a strong race. Hemingway, who lives in Littleton, came within less than an inch of claiming gold but was in no mood to think about what ifs. Hemingway leaped 7 feet, 8 inches to finish behind gold medalist Stefan Holm, who cleared 7-8¾. Jaroslav Baba of the Czech Republic won the bronze. “I’m not going to complain about silver,” he said, walking fast as he departed the stadium. “Anybody who would complain ought to have his head examined.” For several minutes, it looked as if Hemingway might win gold. Holm missed his first two jumps at 7-8 and was on the brink of elimination from gold contention as he prepared for his last jump. Hemingway was not filled with optimism. “I learned a long time ago, don’t ever count out Holm,” Hemingway said. Hemingway was right. Holm wasn’t done. He cleared 7-8 on his third and last attempt, then turned around and cleared 7-8¾ on his first attempt. Hemingway couldn’t answer. Hemingway, who attended high school in Buena Vista, dedicated his medal to his father, Tom. Saturday marked the fourth anniversary of his father’s death, and Hemingway spent the evening contemplating his father’s legacy. He thought about his task Sunday. He said he felt, as he always does, his father’s presence. “He was such a great man, a great father,” Hemingway said. “I’ll be thrilled if I can be half the man he was.” Venerable U.S. sprinting star Gail Devers, 37, suffered a severely strained right calf muscle in the qualifying round of 100 hurdles. Devers didn’t even reach the first hurdle. She won gold in 100 meters in 1992 and 1996 and the 1996 400 relay. In other events, Sweden’s Christian Olsson won triple jump gold and Hungary’s Adrian Zsolt Annus took gold in hammer throw.