SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Maurice Greene fidgeted on the podium, bopping his head in time with an imaginary tune. His fists gripped a microphone so tightly he seemed to be clutching a relay baton.
"I'm getting very edgy. I'm getting very anxious," Greene said, punctuating his words with facial expressions that revealed his intensity. "I'm trying to stay as calm as I can."
Two days before the start of the U.S. Olympic Trials, the world's fastest man already was running on overdrive. The world record-holder and two-time world champion in the 100 meters was ready for the biggest test of his life.
Four years ago, a hamstring injury bothered his training for the trials and he failed to make the U.S. team for the Atlanta Games. Now, he's favored to win Olympic gold in the 100 and expected to duel with Michael Johnson in the 200.
Greene, whose record is 9.79 seconds in the 100, has no intention of setting modest goals for himself.
"My career means nothing if I don't get the Olympic gold medal (in the 100)," he said. "I want to be known as the best sprinter ever, and if I don't get the gold medal, that won't happen."
His quest for Olympic glory begins this weekend. The first round of the 100 is Friday, followed by the semifinals and final on Saturday. The 200 is the following weekend. The top three finishers from all events make the Olympic team.
Greene has little need for motivation. All he has to do is think back to 1996, when he drove 18 hours straight from his home in Kansas City to Atlanta to watch the Olympic 100 final as a spectator.
"I was in the stands, crying," he said. "I said I would never let this happen to me again."
Greene was 12 minutes late when he entered a news conference Wednesday with his usual jaunty bounce. Most of his teammates on the HSI squad wore white T-shirts — Greene wore black.
He dismissed questions about some recent losses — including a 10.54 clocking in a 100 in Glasgow, Scotland, that he called "the worst race I ran in my life" — as mere training exercises.
And he said that, even though the top three runners in each event will go to Sydney, he intends to win both sprints in Sacramento.
"The most important thing here is to make the team, but I always want to win," he said, rejecting the idea he'd hold something back in Sacramento so he can peak in Australia. "I think you have to give 100 percent to make the Olympics."
When asked about his relationship with Johnson, which is frosty at best, Greene took a deep breath.
"I'm going to stay calm with this question," he said. "He's another athlete. I'm going to compete against him."
And how does he greet Johnson when the two bump into each other in a hotel elevator or on the track?
"I say 'Hi' — sometimes," Greene deadpanned.
Johnson is far from just another athlete. He was one of the stars of the Atlanta Games, winning the 200 and 400 in record times, and hopes to repeat in Sydney. Greene might be the biggest hurdle standing in his way.
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.
Greene, 25, has bragged about how he is going to beat Johnson, 32, who has called his competitor "immature" and "disrespectful."
"He said I was immature?" Greene asked. "Maturity comes with age. He's older than me — he's supposed to be more mature than me.
"He said I didn't respect him? I respect him totally, but I'm not going to bow down to him just because he ran some great times. I wasn't in those races when he ran his world records. He's run a lot of great times, but he hasn't run them against me."