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ATHENS 2004

U.S. Relay Team Wins First Round

Jones talks of breaking the American record as she and her teammates prepare for Saturday's 400-meter event.

August 27, 2004|Helene Elliott | Times Staff Writer

ATHENS — It was almost like old times for Marion Jones on Thursday -- except she was the senior member of a dazzling quartet that matched its season-best time of 41.67 seconds in the 400-meter relay and cruised into Saturday's final.

"I'm 28 and they're 20, 22. I feel like I need a cane to hang on," Jones said, smiling.

"This team is a lot different than four years ago. They're young, fresh and excited about everything. I'm cool, calm and collected, but I find myself going along with their antics."

There were no escapades Thursday, just blazing speed and smooth handoffs from Angela Williams to Jones to Lauryn Williams to LaTasha Colander. At the Sydney Games, where Jones won five medals, she ran the anchor leg in the finals with Chryste Gaines, Torri Edwards and Nanceen Perry; they won a bronze medal after losing precious time to sloppy passing on two of three exchanges.

This group, which had practiced at a pre-Olympic relay camp on the Greek island of Crete, was coordinated enough for Jones to entertain thoughts of breaking the American record of 41.47, which she helped set at the 1997 world championships in Athens. However, caution was the prime concern.

"There was definitely talk in the warmup today," she said, "but first we wanted to get the baton around. A record is definitely possible [Saturday]."

Williams, a four-time NCAA champion at USC, said Jones quickly blended in with the group. "I could see she was ready and really moving," Williams said. "We were told to take our time [with handoffs] and just make the final. [On Saturday] we're going to air it out."

Russia qualified second, at 42.12 seconds, and Jamaica third, at 42.20.

Williams said she had no qualms about Jones' presence, even though Jones is under investigation by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency for possible doping infractions. If Jones is found to have used a banned substance, everyone on the relay might lose whatever medal they won. However, U.S. track officials have said they have no legal basis for excluding Jones, who has never tested positive and maintains she has never committed a doping violation.

"I'm glad she's a part of the team," Williams said. "This has been a very positive team. Nobody had any negative thoughts."

If she gets a medal and is asked to give it back, "they'll have to chase me," Williams said.

Jones also said she'd seen her former coach, Trevor Graham, who now coaches sprinters Justin Gatlin and Shawn Crawford, and bore him no ill will. Asked about Graham's admission Sunday, after Gatlin won the 100-meter title, that he had sent to the USADA the drug-filled syringe that set off the doping scandal that has shaken the sport, she spoke carefully.

"It was Justin's moment. He deserved the spotlight. I thought it was unfortunate Trevor had that moment," she said. "Nothing against Trevor. Justin should have been allowed to shine."

In other noteworthy events:

* Terrence Trammell of Atlanta became the only U.S. hurdler to reach today's 110-meter finals when he finished second in his semifinal heat, in 13.17 seconds. Ladji Doucoure of France won the heat with a national-record time of 13.06.

Duane Ross of the U.S. missed the cutoff by running 13.30 and finishing fifth in his heat. That came a day after Allen Johnson, the 1996 Olympic gold medalist, fell near the end of his second-round heat and failed to finish. "I feel honored to step up to the challenge of being the sole American," said Trammell, the Sydney 110-meter hurdle silver medalist.

* Amy Acuff of Austin, Texas, advanced to Saturday's high jump finals by meeting the qualifying standard of 1.95 meters (6 feet 4 3/4 ). However, Tisha Waller of Atlanta couldn't meet it and was eliminated.

* Breaux Greer of Athens, Ga., the U.S. trials javelin throw champion, had the top qualifying throw in the first round of competition, 87.25 meters (286-3). He's the only American in the event, which ends Saturday.

* In the women's 1,500, Natalya Yevdokimova of Russia won her semifinal heat and advanced to Saturday's final with the top time, 4 minutes 4.66 seconds. Kelly Holmes of Britain, the 800 gold medalist, had the second-fastest time, 4:04.77. Carrie Tollefson of Edina, Minn., didn't advance after running a 4:08.55.

* Kenya's Wilfred Bungei led qualifiers into Saturday's 800 finals by winning his heat in 1:44:28. The lone U.S. runner, Jonathan Johnson of Lubbock, Texas, was last among 23 finishers at 1:50.10.

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