[FOUNTAIN]Another wall to be run through

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[FOUNTAIN]Another wall to be run through

"There are no limits," declared Tim Montgomery, the American sprinter who broke the world record for the 100 meter dash last Sunday.

Jesse Owens, the legendary track and field hero, devised the hypothesis that man's limit in covering 100 meters was 10 seconds. At the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, Owens swept the 100-, 200- and 400-meter sprints, winning the 100 meters event at the then-record time of 10.2 seconds. Hence, the 10-second mark came to be known as the magic number.

Thirty-two years later in 1968 that wall was broken. Three African-American athletes, including Jimmy Hines, were clocked equally at 9.9 seconds at the U.S. Track and Field Championships. The officials conducted a thorough examination of the track after the match to address speculation that the length was short. In fact, the track was measured to be too long by 10 centimeters. The magic number had now become 9.9.

Twenty-three years later in 1991, that figure was also broken. The Seoul Olympics gold medalist, Carl Lewis, ran the distance in 9.86 seconds, pushing the wall to 9.8 seconds. And a mere eight years later, even that number became history. America's Maurice Greene set a record, running the event in 9.79 seconds. Maurice Greene is Tim Montgomery's teammate in the 400-meter relays, and it is none other than Greene who has become Montgomery's new yardstick.

"Whenever I closed my eyes, I could envision Maurice's eyes looking back at me as he sprinted forward," Montgomery confessed after his coronation. It was Greene who had relegated Montgomery to the unremembered title as the "first runner-up to the world's fastest man." He even boycotted several championship events after the offer of a dismal appearance fee, compared with Greene's, hurt his pride.

Montgomery hired a new coach who employed various measures to improve his performance. With newly found confidence, the sprinter predicted earlier that this should be "the year he achieves something nobody has ever achieved." He kept his word, though with a bit of luck. His starting reaction time was 0.104 second, barely above the allowed 0.100 second. The wind nudged him by 2 meters a second, the limit.

Maurice Greene, who observed the race from his seat in the half-packed stadium, citing reasons of fatigue and injury for skipping the race, remarked on how much more interesting the coming season would be. Man's instinct to run ever faster seems unlimited, and so the challenge continues.



The writer is the popular culture news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.


by Oh Byung-sang

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