RALEIGH, North Carolina (Reuters) - Maurice Greene’s powerful legs still keep him in the spotlight but his ballroom dancing shoes, not sprinter’s spikes, pay the bills these days.
The former Olympic and world champion has been traveling by bus across America for the past two months entertaining audiences as part of the touring company of the popular television show Dancing With The Stars.
“This is a lot fun-er,” Greene told Reuters during a recent stop in Raleigh. “When I was competing that was stressful. This is going out and having fun.”
The 34-year-old American retired from athletics before the 2008 season, citing a calf injury, but he was not ready to put away his showmanship.
An agent arranged for the sprinter to team up with professional dancer Cheryl Burke on the television show and after a fifth-place finish they joined the 37-city tour.
“He’s very good, he’s disciplined and an athlete,” Burke told television reporters.
“I thought I was okay (as a dancer),” Greene told Reuters, “but ballroom dancing is completely different than dancing in the clubs. I knew nothing about that.”
The biggest challenge was learning technique, Greene said.
“When you are on the TV show, you have to learn a new dance every week. Then there is different techniques for the different dances and different step placement and arm movement.”
He missed the competition of athletics, he said, “but my heart was not in it any more, and the sport is in a lot of trouble. ...I decided it was time for me to move on.”
Three times the world 100 meters champion, winner of Olympic gold in Sydney in 2000 and bronze in Athens in 2004 and the world-record holder at 9.79 seconds for more than three years beginning in 1999, Greene would not single out one event as his greatest achievement.
“You’re at places in life that no one can ever touch,” he said of his lengthy career in which he ran the 100 in under 10 seconds a record 52 times. He still holds the world-best mark for the indoor 60 meters.
“I will always be known as once the world’s fastest man,” he said. “Then you are on a shortlist of people who have won Olympic gold. Then you have a list of people who have won world championships... Everything is significant to me.”
If he could have one race back, it would be his 2001 world championship in Edmonton, he said.
His body had never felt so fit before a race, Greene said, but the feeling did not last long.
Sixty meters into the final, pain racked his left thigh and by the finish line he was hobbling. Yet he still ran 9.82 seconds, the third-fastest performance ever at the time, to defeat compatriot Tim Montgomery.
“Who knows what I would have run,” Greene said. “That was truly an out-of-body experience...I was injured but I was able to pull it off.”
Victory, though, eluded him at the 2004 Olympics, where he placed third behind since-disgraced American Justin Gatlin and Portugal’s Francis Obikwelu after winning the U.S. trials.
“The biggest disappointment (of my career),” Greene said. “I felt like I gave that race up.
“I should have run hard all the way through in the semi-finals, which would have given me a better lane,” he said. “In the middle of the track I can feel what is going on to the left and the right...Justin was just too far away from me. I didn’t even know he was there.”
Always a showman, Greene said the sport today needed more athletes to entertain crowds — and not just with their races.
“That’s why I was the way I was,” said the outgoing Greene. “Some people might not have liked it but a lot of people laughed at it and I was a joy to watch.”
A lot of that joy had gone from the sport now, he said, because of positive doping tests.
“I think people believe in the sport but then they don’t,” he said. “It’s just hard once you see people working hard and then something comes up on them. Every time drugs is brought up in our sport, it’s hurtful to the sport.”
Greene himself was linked with a Mexican steroids dealer last year although he said that he had bought only legal products to give to his team mates and he denied using performance-enhancing drugs.
“When some man tries to come up and lies about me, that hurts,” he said.
The dance show tour, which ended on Sunday in Philadelphia, gave him a chance to find new joy in a different type of competition.
“It was fun but now I have to move on to my other business,” Greene said. “I have a record company that I have been working with, and we are about to put our artist out,” he said. “His name is Amazing and the music is hip-hop.”
“I own the company and I’m the mastermind behind it,” he said with a smile.
Editing by Clare Fallon