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Fueling The Fire

Keeping Up With Jones Will Be Difficult as She Makes an Unprecedented Attempt at Five Golds


From 1896, when Greek peasant Spiridon Louis won the marathon over the same course that legend tells us Pheidippides covered in 490 BC, to 1996, when Michael Johnson won the 200 and 400 meters in his golden spikes, almost every Summer Olympics has produced at least one defining athlete.

When you hear Berlin, 1936, you think Jesse Owens. Rome, 1960: Wilma Rudolph. Mexico City, 1968: Bob Beamon. Munich, 1972: Mark Spitz. Montreal, 1976: Nadia Comaneci. Los Angeles, 1984: Carl Lewis. Seoul, 1988: Florence Griffith Joyner.

Sydney, 2000? Australians would prefer for it to be one of their own, such as swimmers Ian Thorpe or Susie O'Neill, as it was in Melbourne in 1956, when Murray Rose, known as the "Seaweed Streak" because of his then-unconventional vegetarian diet, won three gold medals, and Dawn Fraser won two golds and a silver.

But even Aussies acknowledge that both the Thorpedo and the new Madame Butterfly might have to defer to Marion Jones. If she accomplishes everything that she (and virtually no one else) believes she will inside the stadium at the corner of Olympic Boulevard and Dawn Fraser Avenue, she will be the one from Sydney.

Considering that she will not turn 25 until two weeks after these Games, it is possible that she also will be the one from Athens in 2004 or even an undetermined site (Beijing?) in 2008. But there is history to be made now, and the world's fastest woman is running to make up for lost time; thus, her attempt to win five events in the same Olympics.

Not only has no track and field athlete ever accomplished that, none has even tried it--not Owens, not Lewis, not Fanny Blankers-Koen, not even Paavo Nurmi.

Record books show that Nurmi won five gold medals in Paris in 1924, but an asterisk should be attached. He received two for the same event after having finished as the fastest individual in the cross-country team race.

That is not to discount the Flying Finn's achievement. He won the 5,000 less than an hour after crossing the finish line first in the 1,500. But Jones' challenge is also daunting. Including qualifying rounds, she is scheduled to compete at least 12 times in nine days in her events--the 100, 200, long jump and 400 and 1,600 relays. On one day, the first two rounds of the 200 and long jump qualifying are scheduled.

"I know the historical significance will be so great," she says. "When I win five gold medals, perhaps I'll consider it."


Not if.

Can you dig it?


A history lesson for those who have not been paying attention until now:

Before Jones had a chance to win a gold medal, she already was track and field's golden child.

In the 1990 Arcadia Invitational, her first major high school meet as a freshman at Oxnard's Rio Mesa High, she finished second to Pasadena Muir senior Inger Miller in the 100 and 200.

According to Chicago columnist Ron Rapoport's recently released book on Jones, "See How She Runs," a meet official told Miller, "It's a good thing you beat her now because I don't think you will ever beat her again."

A decade later, she still hasn't beaten Jones again, although Miller hasn't given up. The 28-year-old daughter of Jamaican Olympic sprinter Lennox Miller is expected to be Jones' primary competition in the 100 and 200 in Sydney.

Before Jones finished high school, she had won nine California state championships for Rio Mesa High and Thousand Oaks High and twice had been selected as Track & Field News' female prep athlete of the year.

As a 15-year-old who had recently finished her sophomore year, she finished sixth in the 100 at the senior national championships while competing against world-class sprinters such as Evelyn Ashford and Gwen Torrence. One summer later, after her junior year at Thousand Oaks, she finished fourth in the 200 and sixth in the 200 in the U.S. Olympic trials, earning a berth on the team that would compete in Barcelona as an alternate on the 400-meter relay team.

She declined, declaring that she didn't want to look back some day and say that she had won an Olympic medal unless she had actually run for it. As an alternate, there was no guarantee that she would be entered in the final.

Her mother, Marion Toler, recently told Sports Illustrated a different story, saying that she had a deal with "Little Marion" that she would have to remain home because of sub-par grades and other circumstances during her junior year unless she made the team in the 100 or 200.

"She was not happy," Toler told the magazine. "She wanted to go [as a relay alternate]."

The next important decision, however, was Jones' alone. She chose to attend the University of North Carolina because she was certain that the coaches there would not demand that she focus primarily on track and field, enabling her to also establish herself in basketball. She was the starting point guard as a freshman for the Tar Heels' NCAA championship team.

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