SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Maurice Greene was admittedly nervous, like a boxer before his first title fight.
For Greene, his championship opponents will be the other sprinters in the U.S. Olympic Trials, particularly Michael Johnson.
The meet begins Friday at Sacramento State's Hornet Stadium, with the 100-meter final scheduled for Saturday. The 200 final, where Greene will face Johnson barring any mishaps in the earlier rounds, is set for July 23, the final day of the meet.
Greene, who entered a news conference Wednesday with his usual jaunty bounce and bravado, said he was more concerned about the 100 because of its immediacy and would worry about Johnson later.
''I'm getting very edgy, very anxious, trying to stay as calm as possible,'' Greene said, slowly drawing out his words to emphasize that he was not really calm.
Greene the world-record holder and two-time world champion in the 100, is heavily favored to win the event in the trials and the Sydney Games.
Failing to come home with a gold medal would be devastating for the confident Greene.
''My career would be void ... it would be nothing ... if I don't get an Olympic gold medal,'' he said. ''It's the biggest meet of my life. Nothing compares to this, not even the world championships.''
Four years ago, when Greene was 21 and still a neophyte under the tutelage of sprint guru John Smith, he failed to get through the quarterfinals of the trials, finishing seventh in his heat.
For the Olympic Games, he drove about 18 hours from his home in Kansas City, Kan., to Atlanta. During the 100 final, he sat in the stands and cried uncontrollably.
''I told myself I would never let this happen again without me,'' Greene said. ''The U.S. not getting the gold medal (won by Canada's Donovan Bailey) ... I knew we were better athletes than we had shown.
''I'm the world champion and the world-record holder, but I need to get the gold medal to feel complete. I want to be the best sprinter ever, and if I don't get the gold, I can't say that I'm the best.''
Greene wants to win the gold not only for himself and his family, but for Smith, the world-record holder at 440 yards.
''He's missing an Olympic gold medal,'' Greene said. ''He has a big hole in his heart. If I win a gold, hopefully I can fill that hole a little. He has never said anything to me about getting a gold medal. But he's my coach and he was an athlete. I know he would get great joy out of seeing me win one.''
While Greene is the favorite for Olympic gold in the 100, Johnson, the Olympic champion and world-record holder, has that distinction in the 200.
The relationship between the two is frosty, to say the least. Greene has been bragging about how he is going to beat Johnson while Johnson has called Greene ''immature'' and ''disrespectful.''
''He said I was immature?'' Greene said. ''He didn't back it up. He's older (32 to 25) than I am. He should be more mature. Maturity comes with age.
''He said I didn't respect him? I respect him totally, but I'm not going to bow down to him. I wasn't in those races when he ran his world records (in the 200 and 400). He's run a lot of great times, but he hasn't run them against me.
''If it takes 19.33 (seconds) to win, I'll run that time. But I'm not thinking about the 200 yet. I have to run the 100 first.''
Greene also pointed out that he and Johnson come from different backgrounds, different environments and different upbringings, accounting for their different personalities and attitudes.
The two have met twice in the 200 and each has won once. Both races were in the Prefontaine Classic in Eugene, Ore., with Johnson winning in 1997 and Greene in 1998.
''I'm still learning the 200, but I'm able to step up to the competition,'' said Greene, who has been running the 200 for only three years -- 10 fewer than Johnson. ''I back down to no challenges.''
Before getting to Sydney, Greene must make it through the trials, a task he is focusing on deeply and with some trepidation.
''If I go through my career and don't make the Olympic team, my career will be missing something,'' he said. ''It's something I want so badly.
"Nothing comes before this.''
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