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With the Greene-Johnson Rivalry Slightly Hamstrung, Jones May Overshadow the Men in Her Drive for Five

September 10, 2000|RANDY HARVEY


* OVERVIEW--Can Marion Jones become the first woman to win five gold medals in the same Olympics? An equally pertinent question: Who is going to beat her in her three individual events--the 100 meters, 200 and long jump?

Since she became a full-time track and field athlete in March 1997, she has lost only three 100s and to only two sprinters--two-time Olympic champion Gail Devers (July 2, 1997) and Jamaica's Merlene Ottey (Aug. 13, '97 and Sept. 6, '97).

Devers will not run the 100 in Sydney, having qualified for the U.S. team only in the high hurdles and 400 relay, and Ottey, who sat out a year while successfully appealing a drug suspension, might be limited to a relay.

In the 200, no one has beaten Jones since March of '97.

If she is to be beaten in an individual event, it will probably be the long jump. She is capable of winning, having done so in the prestigious Weltklasse meet this summer in Zurich, Switzerland, but not favored. She was third in last summer's World Championships and, in her most recent competition in Brussels, finished fifth.

Her chances in Sydney, however, were enhanced when the Cubans wouldn't allow one of their former internationals, world champion Niurka Montalvo, to compete because she has emigrated to Spain.

As for the two relays in which Jones is entered, the 400 and 1,600, they are, as always, unpredictable. The United States should win the 400, if it can get the baton around the track, but the Russians and Germans are serious threats in the 1,600.

* OTHERS TO WATCH--Inger Miller insists that the Olympic track and field competition is not a "one-woman show" and should win three medals--in the 100, 200 and 400 relay.

She also insists that she is running for gold in the 100 and 200, although everyone else believes it's silver. She has beaten Jones twice--in the 100 and 200 at the Arcadia Invitational in 1990 when Miller was a senior at Pasadena Muir and Jones was a freshman at Oxnard's Rio Mesa High.

In 1996, Devers became only the second woman to repeat in the 100--the other was Wyomia Tyus in '68. Now Devers is favored in the 100 hurdles, trying to gain the gold medal that eluded her in 1992 when she fell two steps before the finish line.

Michael Johnson received most of the attention for doubling in Atlanta in the 200 and 400, but France's Marie Jose Perec did it too. She's returning in the 400, although her condition is a question mark. She has moved from Westwood, where she trained with John Smith, to Rostock, Germany, where she is training with the husband of the world-record holder, the former East German Marita Koch.

The 400 favorite is Australia's Cathy Freeman, who also is carrying the hopes of the country's aborigines.

Regina Jacobs, was expected to renew her chase for a major international gold in the 1,500 but withdrew from the Olympics Friday because of a respiratory infection. At last summer's World Championships she finished second to Russia's Svetlana Masterkova, the Atlanta gold medalist.

Stacy Dragila, a former rodeo calf roper who lives in Idaho, is favored to win the first Olympic women's pole vault competition. She is the world champion and world-record holder. But Australia's Emma George, a former circus acrobat, is expected to contend, as is Ukraine's Anzhela Balakhonova.

* BEST STORY--Take your pick. There's Marla Runyan, the first legally blind athlete to compete in the Olympics for the United States, and the Clark family, which took all three U.S. berths in the 800 meters.

Runyan, 31, has been legally blind since she was 9, when she contracted Stargardt's disease, a condition that results in deterioration of the retinas. She has 20/400 vision and can see only peripherally.

Yet, two years after giving up the heptathlon to become a middle-distance runner, she won the 1,500 meters at the Pan American Games last summer and finished 10th at the World Championships. With a personal best of 4:05.27, she is the 15th-fastest woman 1,500 runner in U.S. history.

But, six weeks before the Olympic trials this summer, she had to overcome another obstacle, a knee injury suffered while jumping out of the way of a child on a bicycle on a trail near her home in Eugene, Ore. She could not run again until the week before the trials. Still, she made a dramatic stretch run and finished third to qualify for the team.

"What Marla did was incredible and wonderful," said Suzy Favor Hamilton, who finished second in the race.

The Clarks--sisters Joetta and Hazel and sister-in-law Jearl Miles-Clark--all will be in Sydney and all in the same race. Hazel finished first in the trials, Miles-Clark second and Joetta third. Hazel and Joetta are the daughters of Joe Clark, the East Orange (N.J.) high school principal whose story was the basis of the movie "Lean on Me."

Besides Joe, the Clark women lean on J.J. Clark, the brother of Hazel and Joetta and the husband of Jearl. He coaches them all.

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