Suggesting that his disappointing 2002 season was nothing more than an anomaly, three-time World 100 metres champion Maurice Greene says he's ready to return to his winning ways, and that the title of World's Fastest Human is still very much in his possession.
Speaking to reporters via teleconference from the seat of his BMW 745 LI (he was on his way to training) - the reigning Olympic champion said his primary goal this year is to retain his title of World Champion. "That's what counts the most," he said, indicating as well that he has clear designs on a 100/200 sprint double in Paris. "I've had the world record and I know I'm capable of running the world record again, but the most important thing is the World Championship title. That's what people really remember you by."
And, he revealed, the road to Paris will go through Birmingham as well.
Greene, who began his season ten days ago in Houston with a 6.60 effort over 60 meters, will compete in the four-meet USATF Golden Spike Tour - the adidas Indoor Games in Boston (1 February.), New York's Verison Millrose Games (7 February), The Tyson Foods Invitational in Fayetteville (15 February.) and the US Indoor Championships (1-2. March)- before aiming for his second IAAF World Indoor 60 metres title in Birmingham.
This winter will be his most extensive indoor campaign since 1999, and it's all being done with the outdoor season in mind. "I always use my indoor running as a stepping stone for my outdoors. So I'm just getting myself prepared for outdoors."
Exuding the confidence of a Greene of old, he said the key difference now, from this point last year, is that he is full training mode.
"The only thing different that we've done this year is train," he said with a laugh, admitting that that was not the case a year ago. "There were a lot of things I was going through. I had a couple of deaths in the family. There were some things I hadn't had to deal with before."
Greene resumed training in mid-October, and already feels energized. "I feel a lot better this year. I've been training very hard this year. It's one of the things I needed to do to get back on track and continue my winning ways."
The absence of early season training last year led to some frustrations over the past summer. "I couldn't wait to finish the year to get back to training so I could start competing like Maurice Greene normally does."
For the outdoor campaign, his plan is simple: "To win every race that I'm in." While his competitive schedule is not yet determined, it will include several races over 200 metres, and an attempt to reclaim the World title at that distance which he won in 1999.
"19.70-something would be good for me," he said. "That's something that I think I'm capable of doing."
In the 100m, he said the athletics world can expect some very fast performances.
"I will run 9.7 at least three times this year." Reclaiming his world record, now held by Tim Montgomery at 9.78 seconds, will not be the focal point of his season, but he firmly believes that it is well within reach. "I'm not going to focus my mind on the world outdoor record. I'm going to focus on running the best races I can, and to win." The world record, he said, "will come back to me when it's supposed to."
Greene watched as Montgomery eclipsed his world record in the IAAF Grand Prix Final in September, and said he laughed when he saw the result.
"It felt good to see someone else inherit the pressure of record holder and get all that attention, and to listen to them talk." Records, he says. "Are made to be broken. [Montgomery] just happened to have one of those days when he broke my world record. I know I can run faster than he can. I'm glad I'm still in this sport to come back and reclaim my world record. Because I still think it's mine."
He seems so focused on his return to form, in fact, that distractions don't even enter the picture, and he doesn't seem in the least bit concerned about his main rivals. He said he didn't know that a stress fracture had forced Briton Dwain Chambers to withdraw from both the Boston and New York races. He also hasn't been paying much attention to the controversy surrounding suggestions about Tim Montgomery's training relationship with Ben Johnson's former coach, Charlie Francis. "I can [not] care less what Tim Montgomery does or who Tim Montgomery trains with. It doesn't concern me."
Likewise, he's not at all bothered by the new false start rule, criticized by some sprinters, that goes into affect this year. "I'm not going to change my race just because of a rule. I'm not going to be less aggressive just because there's a new false start rule."
He's also predicting a possible assault on his world record of 6.39 in the 60 metres indoors. Of his anticipated times this winter, he says, "I believe it's going to be around 6.37 or 6.36."
At 28, he still has quite a bit of time left in his career, and said the 2004 Olympics in Athens wouldn't necessarily be his last. "Who knows?" he said. "I'm going to keep competing until the good Lord tells me I'm done."
Bob Ramsak for the IAAF