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SYDNEY 2000 / SUMMER OLYMPIC GAMES | RANDY HARVEY

A Leg Like That Should Make Jones Jump at 400

October 01, 2000|RANDY HARVEY

SYDNEY, Australia — Jamaica's Sandie Richards knew before the rest of her 1,600-meter relay teammates that Marion Jones would run the third leg Saturday night for the United States.

Richards specifically didn't tell Deon Hemmings, who would run the third leg for Jamaica.

"I didn't want to scare her," Richards said.

Hemmings said she doesn't scare easily. She got the baton at the same time as Jones, their teams vying for the lead after the first two legs, and then . . .

" 'Oops,' I told myself," Hemmings said. "I just watched her go."

Hemmings never even considered going with her.

"I knew if I went out that fast, I would die at the end," she said. "That's embarrassing."

Melinda Gainsford-Taylor, who ran the third leg for Australia, tried to stay with Jones.

"That was a bit awful," Gainsford-Taylor said. "When I looked up, I said, 'Oh, my God, she keeps getting farther and farther ahead.' I thought she might get tired, but no way."

Allison Curbishley, who ran the third leg for Great Britain, was asked her impression of Jones.

"All I saw was the back of her head," Curbishley said.

*

As impressive as Jones had been in her first Olympics, winning the 100 meters by the largest margin since 1952 and the 200 by the largest margin since 1960, nothing was as impressive as her 1,600-relay leg.

The 400 is not one of her events. She has run the open quarter only once this year (although she had an excellent time in winning at the Mt. SAC Relays in April) and had not run a 1,600-relay leg since she was a college sophomore.

There also is the fact that she despises running the 400.

"Who likes the 400?" U.S. Coach Karen Dennis said. "Nobody likes the 400. Cathy Freeman is the one exception. It makes your butt hurt."

Yet, on Saturday night, Jones took the baton even with Jamaica's Hemmings and by the time she finished the first turn had opened up an insurmountable lead. You just assumed that, with her inexperience in the race, she would pay later for going out too fast.

So did she.

"I was really concerned that when I hit that last stretch, my legs would say, 'No more, Marion.' "

That didn't happen. Natasha Colander-Richardson, the U.S. anchor, inherited such a large lead that she could have jogged to the gold medal. The United States won by more than a half second over the second-place Jamaicans.

"I'm just glad she was on my team," said U.S. leadoff runner Jearl Miles-Clark of Jones. "That was the smoothest 400 I've ever seen."

Jones was timed in 49.40. Only one other woman who ran the third leg for her team was timed in under 51. Only one of the 31 other women in the race ran as fast as Jones. Australia's anchor, Freeman, had the same time. She is the two-time world champion and current Olympic champion in the 400.

You think Jones might, as the Australians say, give Freeman a go if the American decided to run the 400 seriously?

*

"Hi, I'm Marion Jones, I ran the third leg tonight in the 4 by 4 relay," she said, following instructions of the news conference moderator for all medalists to introduce themselves before they spoke.

As if she needed an introduction.

I went to the news conference expecting to hear my colleagues extolling Jones' greatness, the way her colleagues did immediately after the race. Instead, the world's media were focused on the over-the-top victory celebration of the four men on the U.S. 400 relay team.

"What did you think of your American jerks?" Philipe Vander Weghe of Le Soir in Brussels asked me.

Undoubtedly, they were American and they were jerks. But they weren't mine, I told him.

What I was really thinking was that it was a shame that Jones had been overshadowed by the undignified display. When we look back some day, we will realize that we have seen one of the great Olympic performances.

No track and field athlete in history had won medals in five events in a single Olympics until she did it here. (Finland's Paavo Nurmi won five gold medals in 1924, but two were for the same event; he had the fastest time in the team cross-country race.)

Jones said that she was "a little bit depressed" because merely three of her medals were gold. She settled for bronzes in the long jump Friday night and the 400-meter relay 24 hours later.

She did all she could in the sprint relay. She made up ground on the anchor leg, but she couldn't overcome two bad exchanges and the absences of injured Inger Miller and Gail Devers.

The long jump was her fault. She should have sought out an experienced coach instead of staying with Trevor Graham, who has no expertise in the event.

We in the media have told her that for a year. It's funny. When we're wrong, athletes immediately remind us. When we're right, nothing.

Perhaps she will acknowledge it when she returns from a well-deserved vacation. She not only competed in five events here but also had to deal with the revelation of husband C.J. Hunter's positive steroid tests. Not once did she back down from any of her challenges.

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