Inger Miller celebrating after winning the 200m (© Allsport) © Copyright
General News Los Angeles, USA

Maurice Greene and Inger Miller Jesse Owens laureates 1999

Greene and Miller, winners of the Jesse Owens Memorial Award for 1999 can't wait to face their biggest rivals next year.

Greene's nemesis is Michael Johnson, the Olympic champion and world record-holder in the 200 and 400 meters. Miller's No. 1 foe is Marion Jones, the two-time world champion in the women's 100.

"It's like we're playing cards,'' Greene said Wednesday, after being chosen the award winner over five other male track and field stars. "I'm ready to play mine."

The awards, presented annually to the outstanding male and female performers in United States track and field, long distance running and race walking, are named in honour of the Hall of Famer who won four gold medals at the 1936 Olympics.

This year, when Greene was setting the world record of 9.79 seconds in the 100, winning the 200 at the USA Championships and sweeping the 100 and 200 at the World Championships, he accused Johnson of ducking him in the 200. Johnson, who ran only the 400 at the World Championships and was a last-minute withdrawal from the 200 at the USA Championships because of an injury, said the same thing about Greene. So they never met.

Greene said he hoped to race against Johnson before next year's U.S. Olympic trials at Sacramento, California, in July.

"I would love to do a special race, if he'll agree to it,'' Greene said.

Johnson, however, has ruled out ever running a match race again, after injuring himself during a 150m confrontation against then 100m world record-holder Donovan Bailey in 1997.

Meanwhile, Greene said one of his goals next year was to lower his world record in the 100 to 9.76.

Miller and Jones, who both run the 100 and 200, met occasionally during 1999. Jones won every time, except in the 200 at the World Championships, when she pulled up with an injury in the semifinals.

"I've never been one to avoid competition,'' Miller said. "I'm looking forward to running against her. We're both vying for the top sprinters' spot, so let's do it.

"It will be a good rivalry. It's not a one-woman show anymore.''

Despite her losses to Jones, Miller had the best year of her career. In addition to winning the 200 world title in a world-leading 21.77, she got the silver medal in the 100 with a career-best 10.79, she won the 100 at the USA Championships and was third in the 200, and was a winner at four other major invitational meets.

In winning the award, voted upon by USA Track & Field officials, administrators and the media, Miller beat five other contenders, including Jones. The others were pole vaulter Stacy Dragila, sprinter-hurdler Gail Devers, middle-distance runner Regina Jacobs and 400- and 800-meter runner Jearl Miles Clark.

"The year that I had was unbelievable,'' Miller said. "It's an honour to receive an award with Jesse Owens' name on it.''

Other contenders for the men's award were pole vaulter Jeff Hartwig, discus thrower Anthony Washington, shot putter C.J. Hunter and race walker Curt Clausen.

The winners will receive their awards Thursday at a banquet during the USATF convention in Los Angeles.

Bert Rosenthal (AP) for the IAAF