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Monday, August 14, 2000

The whiz kid

They can't get enough of Canada's young 100-metre phenom


 VICTORIA - The day after the day before, they wanted more, more, more.

 It was Pierre Browne's turn to be the sensation of the nation at a changing-of-the-guard Canadian Track & Field Championships and Olympic Trials.

 But Nicolas Macrozonaris, who pulled out of the 200 metres and left Browne the stage to himself, I'm sorry, remained the story.

 The media just couldn't get enough of the Montreal teenager who Saturday afternoon ran a stunning 10.19 to make it into the Sydney Olympics in the 100 metres with Donovan Bailey and Bruny Surin.

 Browne, a 20-year-old Toronto runner who won the 200 metres here yesterday and is going to Sydney with a qualified time of 20.49, is an out-of-nowhere story of sorts, too.

 I mean, who is Pierre Browne?

 "To be honest I didn't think this would be my breakthrough year,'' he said. "To tell you the truth, I didn't think this would happen to me this year. But now I'm here.''

 He'd never met any of these guys before.

 "I met Nicolas Saturday,'' he said. "And Donovan Bailey and Bruny Surin, I just met them, too.''

 Browne thinks he can run in the 19s in Sydney.

 "I think I can possibly win a gold medal. You've got to believe. If you can't believe it, you're not going to do it. You have to believe you're as good as anybody on the track.''

 Browne isn't lobbying for a 100-metre relay spot. He says he's a 200-metre man.

 "I most likely fit in the 200,'' he said.

 "I think the team needs me in the 200. And the 200 is my strongest event.''

 Impressive young man. Good story. But Nicolas Macrozonaris still was the sizzle, still was the story 24 hours later.

 It's been a while since a fresh talent exploded on the Canadian sports scene like Macrozonaris did here Saturday.

 Part of the appeal is that number he put up. A 10.19 for a 19-year-old is amazing.

 Part of the appeal is his innocence. He showed up yesterday wearing an Adidas hat and shirt which he actually bought. Hey, kid. Guys who run 10.19 get paid to wear that stuff.

 But there's another factor you just can't ignore, no matter how politically correct you might try to be.

 "We were expecting him to run under 10.3 this summer,'' said his coach, Sylvain Desmarais. "But breaking 10.2 is crazy. You don't see a white guy go under 10.20 that often.''

 There. Somebody spit it out.

 Everybody remembers the controversy Jimmy The Greek caused with racist statements about black athletes. And along comes Nick The Greek, running a 10.19.

 Referred to as the Greek White Hope in dispatches yesterday, Macrozonaris laughed at that.

 "I guess it's good,'' said the young man from the Great White North.

 But mostly it's just this kid himself.

 He's a delight. And yesterday he spent a half-hour in the press room answering more questions in 30 minutes from the media than he'd been asked in his two-year career.

 "I wasn't able to sleep very well. I have a headache,'' said Macrozonaris of going from nobody to somebody overnight.

 "I think it's a dream but it's not a dream. It's real.''

 Macrozonaris said it looks like he came out of nowhere only because of a bunch of wind-aided times that don't get recorded.

 "I had a 10.18 at Flagstaff. I had a 10.20. I had a 10.26. But the only one which was legal was a 10.38.

 "I proved I can run fast. And running fast again in Sydney is not going to be a problem. I'll be even better.''

 Macrozonaris took us back three years to when he ran his first race in high school.

 "It was an 11.03.''

 Incredible.

 He talked about when he was eight years old and his brother called him "a Ben Johnson'' because he ran so fast.

 He talked about his dad paying his way here to run.

 "My father paid for four trips for me to run this year. I ran 10.19. I guess he's all paid off.

 "I called my father on the phone but other people were with me so I couldn't express my feelings. I called a little while later and kind of let loose.''

 He talked about Donovan Bailey.

 "He was my first hero.

 "True story. And I told him the story: I watched him race and I went out and measured the pavement on the street for 100 metres so I could run it.''

 And he talked about Sydney.

 "Going to the Olympics is going to be a big experience.

 '`It means a lot to me. Most great athletes go to the Olympics when they are 20 and 21.

 "I'm leaving here as a dream. It comes true.''