Jones is still incensed over a 1998 Sports Illustrated profile that quoted her mother commenting disapprovingly on Jones' impending marriage to Hunter and her desire at that point to be closer to her daughter. Jones no longer speaks to the writer of the piece and has since taken pains to shield her mother from the media horde. Her mother is quoted in Rapoport's biography--Jones granted him permission--and the book now serves as a first line of defense against reporters seeking a comment or two from her.
In the book, Jones says she resented her mother's following her cross-country when she enrolled at the University of North Carolina. She felt she had been denied a fundamental rite of teenage passage--the right to go away, alone, to college. Today, she describes her relationship with her mother as "very good. Although we had times when I was in college that we didn't speak for a while, there are times now when we don't speak for a while. That's not to say that it's a bad relationship. People interpreted that totally wrong.
"Looking back now, I would want to go with my daughter and see her compete in athletics," Jones says. "I would want to go and see the game. I've heard some say that she was a needy mom--and that's not the case at all."
Jones says she has resigned herself to the prospect of never having a relationship with her father. She tried to see him four years ago, pounding on the door of the Los Angeles Laundromat he owns, but received no response. The last time Jones saw him, she says, he was sitting in the stands watching her play a tournament game with North Carolina in 1995. Excited, she had hoped to talk to him after the game, but when she looked for him after the final buzzer, he was gone.
Of a possible reunion with her father, she says: "Things in my life right now are just how I want them, and I'm happy and I'm comfortable and things are going great. And so to throw something in the mix that really doesn't belong anymore . . . it belongs in the past. It would spoil the soup.
"A lot of young kids and people around my age actually have never met their father, or met their father when they were 2 and he disappeared. So at least when you compare it to some of those situations, at least I got to see him and have a talk with him, things like that."
More than one amateur psychologist with a press badge and a laptop has theorized that Jones' marriage to Hunter was a byproduct of that broken relationship with her natural father. It's an easy assumption: At 6 feet, 1 inch and 330 pounds, with a glower that can send strangers in the other direction, Hunter is often seen as The Great Wall That Protects Marion--part husband, part bodyguard, part bouncer. The European sports media, undertrained in the art of understatement, have nicknamed the couple "Beauty and the Beast."
When Jones reads media profiles portraying Hunter as gruff, surly or, as in a recent ESPN Magazine piece, "an absolute ass," she quickly assumes the role of protector. "C.J. might look like he's protective, but I'm not the type that likes to be protected. That word has been thrown around a lot and been misused, I think.
"You know, I've had male figures in my life before--my stepfather. He stepped in and filled a void. But C.J. doesn't, I don't think, fill that father void at all. And unless it's my father . . . if Mr. Jones himself comes back into my life, which I wouldn't want at all right now, it will never be filled."
Jones adds that her husband's size and bluntness often intimidate people. "He's gotten a bad rap. I think if you ask anyone who knows C.J., they love him to death. He's very caring, very considerate, the biggest jokester you'll ever meet."
If you're wearing a media credential, that's a side of Hunter you will never see. Jokes? Not here, not with you. During an interview, Hunter is a man of few words.
What is Marion's best trait?
Can you give an example?
"I see it every day. She is what you get. That's her."
Hunter, however, turns nearly loquacious when asked about his wife as a potential five-gold-medal Olympian. He's an unabashed fan.
"You know the real reason I'm still throwing?" he says. "So I can go to her meets and watch her run." And if Jones pulls off the unprecedented drive for five? "It will be the biggest thing that's ever happened in the Olympic Games. It will be huge to the world, obviously."
And to him?
"I couldn't care less."
"It's not going to change how I feel about her. It's not going to change us . . . I'll be incredibly excited for her, but if she said today, 'I don't want to do it,' I'd say fine. Other than on a superficial level, it doesn't mean a lot. It's just a medal, you know. It's just a race."