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Confident Jones Easily Stays on Her Ambitious Course

Women's Long Jump Final: Midnight Tonight: Tv: 7 P.m. Friday, Nbc


SYDNEY, Australia — Marion Jones coasted on the Olympic Stadium track, entering the stretch in the second round of the 200 meters with a large lead and trotting to the finish line.

In the last few steps before crossing it, she was passed by Australia's Melinda Gainsford-Taylor. Both qualified easily for the semifinals. No big deal.

Except in Sydney newspapers.

"MEL'S MAGIC," screamed the front-page headline on the cover of the city's tabloid, the Daily Telegraph.

"Jones gets to see back of Mel," was the more subdued but equally misleading front-page headline in the Australian.

If there is a chance for anyone to beat Jones here in the final of an individual event, it probably was not in the 200. (The final was scheduled for 1:55 a.m. PDT today.)

The long jump competition, however, might produce a medal of a different color for Jones.

Or perhaps no medal at all.

It is the weakest of her three individual events here. (She won the 100 meters Saturday.) Her personal best is 23 feet 11 3/4. She jumped that in 1998, when she lost only once and was ranked No. 1 in the world.

She since has been frustrated by the event. In 1999, she finished second in the national championships with a best of 22-3 and third in the World Championships with a best of 22-5.

She won at the Olympic trials this year with a best of 23- 1/2 but only after needing all three qualifying jumps to reach the final.

She had no such difficulties here, bettering the automatic qualifying mark with a jump of 22-3 on her first effort.

That came at the end of her most challenging day at the Summer Olympics. She already had run two rounds of the 200. But, she said later, perhaps she was even more focused than usual inside the stadium because of all the distractions outside of it. Her husband, shotputter C.J. Hunter, was revealed this week to have failed four tests this year for a steroid.

"I was like, 'What?' " she said of her reaction when she saw her mark. "I turned around just expecting a red flag. But no worries at all."

The worries could come in Friday night's final.

One break she received--although an unwelcome one, she said--came when world champion Niurka Montalvo was blocked from competing here by her native Cuba.

She wanted to represent Spain, her adopted country, but was ineligible unless she received Cuba's permission because she had previously competed for that country in international competition.

There will be several others in the final to challenge Jones, including 1999 World Championships silver medalist Fiona May of Italy and 1992 Olympic gold medalist and '88 silver medalist Heike Drechsler of Germany.

There was speculation that Jones' awkward jumping style contributed to her back injury during last year's World Championships at Seville, Spain. Critics called for her to drop the event unless she began working with a more experienced coach. Her coach, Trevor Graham, is a respected sprint coach but has not previously worked with an elite jumper.

Jones, though, said that the injury was caused by the hard, sun-baked track in Seville and vowed to remain loyal to Graham, who coaches her in Raleigh, N.C.

But she did make one concession, returning to her approach of 1998 that relies more on her sheer athleticism and less on technique. She will have what is known in boxing as a puncher's chance.

"I'll be the first person to tell you that I don't have the prettiest technique," she said. "But, in '98, when I was jumping almost 24 feet, there was none of this criticism.

"I know I can jump like I did in '98. I know I can do it again, that I have it in me."

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