Wariner's longtime coach balks at pay cut, departs months before Olympics

Defending Olympic 400-meter champion Jeremy Wariner and his
longtime coach have split over a contract dispute with the Beijing
Games just seven months away.

Clyde Hart, who has coached Wariner for five years beginning
with their days at Baylor University, said Tuesday that Wariner
wanted to pay him less than his previous contracts.

Hart declined to say if Wariner has lined up a new coach.
Wariner's agent is world record holder Michael Johnson, another
Hart protege.

Hart said his previous one-year contract paid him a percentage
of Wariner's earnings and that the runner offered him a new deal
for less pay.

"The better he did, the better the coach would be
compensated" under the old deal, Hart said. "If he didn't do
good, I would suffer also."

In addition to the Olympic gold medal, Wariner won the gold
medal at the 2005 and 2007 World Championships, setting a personal
record each year under Hart's tutoring. He's favored to repeat his
Olympic medal this year.

Hart deflected a question whether the dispute strained his
relationship with Johnson and Wariner.

"It's been a strange situation all the way around," Hart said.

Johnson did not immediately respond to a telephone message
seeking comment left with Wariner's manager, Deon Minor. According
to Wariner's Web site, he's scheduled to compete at the Sydney
Grand Prix in Australia on Feb. 16.

Hart has long been considered a 400-meters guru with an
international reputation for developing some of the biggest names
in the track.

Hart is an eight-time National Track and Field Coach of the Year
and received the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Coach of the Year
award in 1996, 2004, and 2006.

Hart said he enjoyed coaching Wariner but made his decision
based on the business of the sport.

"It was good money, and probably most people would jump at it
in a heartbeat," he said, without giving specifics. "I just felt
that any type of cutback wasn't justified."

Hart said he will continue to coach Sanya Richards, the world's
top-ranked female runner over 400 meters the past three years.

"I feel Jeremy will continue to be successful because he has a
strong desire to excel and is blessed with tremendous athletic
ability. I wish him the very best in his pursuit of Olympic gold,"
Hart said.