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SYDNEY 2000 / SUMMER OLYMPIC GAMES

Out of Reach

Jones' leap of faith falls short of 5 gold medals.

September 30, 2000|BILL PLASCHKE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SYDNEY, Australia — At the most dangerous and unfamiliar part of her trip Friday, Marion Jones' bold ride toward five Olympic gold medals became hopelessly stuck in the sand.

After winning golds in the 100- and 200-meter runs, Jones finished third in the long jump when, ironically, she ran too fast and too far.

Scrambling out of the sand pit after a final jump that was longer than 23 feet and potentially enough for a gold, Jones looked back at a judge and saw only red.

He was waving the red flag that denotes a foul.

Television replays showed that Jones' foot was halfway across the foul line on the runway board before she leaped.

Her last chance had no chance. In third place at the time, that is where Jones remained.

Her best jump of 22 feet 8 1/2 inches--well off her personal best of 23 feet 11 3/4 inches--was just short of the mark set by winner Heike Drechsler of Germany, who jumped 22 feet 11 1/4 inches. A three-year quest ended by the length of an index finger.

While Jones' best jump was equal to the best of silver medalist Fiona May of Italy, May was given the higher place because she accrued no fouls in six jumps while Jones fouled four times.

When Jones saw that last flag, she winced as if she had just pulled a hamstring.

"It is something every athlete dreams of, to have the jump of your life on the last jump," Jones said. "I was very aggressive, very fast, very fast. Then I turned around and saw the gentleman flip the red flag. It dashed my hopes."

Not to mention those of a nation that had made Jones the centerpiece of its Olympic panorama.

No track and field athlete has ever won gold medals in five different Olympic events.

Her journey became even more difficult in recent days as she shouldered the specter of her shotputter husband, C.J. Hunter, and his four failed drug tests.

Yet even in her first defeat Friday, Jones handled herself with as much grace as grit.

"The dream for five is not alive anymore, but I don't regret at all saying I was going for five," she said. "I had a shot. I went for it. It just didn't pan out."

She can add a third and fourth gold medal tonight by participating in two relays during track and field's final session.

If nothing else, she will look more comfortable there.

Not only was Friday's long jump her least favorite event, it is also the one for which she seemed least prepared. Her approach sprint was choppy, her landing was awkward.

She fouled on her first jump and on each of her last three, a sloppy performance that her opponents implied could have been fixed with better coaching.

"She has to work on her run-up," said Drechsler, a 35-year-old veteran with two Olympic golds. "But with a good regime, she will go far."

That regime has been managed for three years by Trevor Graham, a sprinting expert. Critics feel that he is not qualified to help her on the long jump, and noted coaches throughout the industry have offered their expertise.

But because Graham worked with Jones before she became accomplished, she feels a loyalty to him that overrides all else.

When asked about adding a new coach Friday, Jones said, "The answer to your question is, no."

It is, perhaps, the same loyalty that has inspired her continued public defense of her husband, as well as her insistent attention upon a five-gold goal that few believed possible.

When it ended Friday, it did not end for lack of trying. "I don't regret one thing," Jones said. "I left it all out there on the track."

*

GREAT ESCAPE

Lithuania just missed beating the U.S. for one of the biggest upsets in basketball history.

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