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ATHENS 2004

Jones Is Empty-Handed

After winning five medals in Sydney, she finishes fifth in the long jump, then can't get the baton handed off in time in the 400 relay.

August 28, 2004|Helene Elliott | Times Staff Writer

ATHENS — The golden glow that gilded Marion Jones at the Sydney Games was chipped off in the scratchy sand of Olympic Stadium's long jump pit and a relay exchange zone where Jones' reach couldn't meet Lauryn Williams' grasp.

Jones' program at Athens, shortened by circumstance and choice to two events from the five in which she won medals four years ago, ended in tears Friday. An hour after she'd placed a meek fifth in the long jump, she and Williams bungled the baton handoff in the 400-meter relay, missing two attempts and connecting on the third too late to remain within the 65-foot-long zone.

"I exceeded my wildest dreams," Jones said, "but in a negative sense."

Jones, running the second leg, tried to pass the cylinder to Williams, the 20-year-old who'd won a silver medal in the 100-meter dash last week. Jones extended her right arm but couldn't get close to Williams' backward-reaching left hand. They tried again, and missed by a lot again. The third time, an off-balance Jones got the baton into Williams' hand, but Williams had run too far and the team was disqualified.

While the Jamaican team ran to gold in 41.73 seconds, slower than the 41.67 the U.S. women had run in Thursday's semifinal, Williams walked the baton toward the finish, her shoulders encircled by the arms of Jones and anchor runner LaTasha Colander.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday August 29, 2004 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 46 words Type of Material: Correction
Olympic track and field -- An article in Saturday's Sports section about the U.S. women's team's disqualification from the 400-meter relay reported that Marion Jones was trying to pass the baton to Lauryn Williams with her right hand. Jones had the baton in her left hand.

"It was a rough one," Jones said of her Athens experience. "I looked for great things this year. It didn't happen for me and it didn't happen for the team this year."

At that, tears cascaded down her cheeks.

Through the pressure of her chase for five gold medals at Sydney, her divorce from husband C.J. Hunter and, more recently, being the subject of an investigation by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, she has been stoic and strong. Her resolve fractured Friday, when she was reduced to watching someone else win the medal she'd coveted.

"She's a warrior, and I want you all to know that," Colander said to reporters who jammed the interview area beneath the stadium. "You all have been on her from the beginning to the end. You know, the USA team is going to stick with her.

"In the Olympics, it's not always the win, it's the journey to get there, and this journey has been very tough for her."

Despite the loss of a seemingly sure relay medal, the U.S. track and field team increased its medal total to 21, one more than the Sydney team won. Terrence Trammell's silver in the 110-meter hurdles, behind a world-record-tying 12.91 by China's Liu Xiang, followed by a one-two finish in the pole vault by Tim Mack and Toby Stevenson, pushed the U.S. tally to six gold, 10 silver and five bronze.

There should be more today, as competition ends on the track. Maurice Greene, who ran a blazing last leg to bring the men's 400-meter relay team home in 38.02 seconds in its semifinal, promised a world record.

"I predict 37.27," he said.

Also, the men's 1,600-meter relay team of Kelly Willie, Derrick Brew, Andrew Rock and Darold Williamson had the fastest semifinal time, 2:59.30, and will be favored today.

The women's 1,600-meter relay team of Crystal Cox, Moushaumi Robinson, UCLA's Monique Henderson and Sanya Richards had the second-fastest semifinal time at 3:23.79, behind Russia's 3:23.52.

However, the bobble by Jones and Williams resonated most loudly because it was Jones and because she had already missed a long jump medal by topping out at a wind-aided 6.85 meters, 22 feet 5 3/4 inches. Tatyana Lebedeva, the triple jump bronze medalist, led a Russian sweep by leaping 7.07 meters (23-2 1/2 ).

"It was a disappointing performance for me," said Jones, who fouled on her first and fifth jumps. Her best jump was her second; her last, 6.63 meters (21-9) her shortest. She set a season-best of 7.13 (23-4 3/4 ) last month at the Olympic trials.

"I'm never one to give excuses, but I could stand here and say the fouls were long, but nobody wants to hear about it," she said. "[The Russians] deserve to have a sweep. The rest of us didn't challenge them."

The relay was Jones' last event before she returns to Raleigh, N.C., today to be with her 14-month-old son. She won't have a medal to show him because of the missed handoff.

The race began well. Leadoff runner Angela Williams flew around the track and made a smooth pass to Jones.

Williams said she and Jones are familiar enough with each other to hand off the baton without a word, but that Jones and Lauryn Williams have to call to each other.

And Jones said she did call to Lauryn Williams.

"I was yelling, 'Wait, wait. Stop. Hold up,' " Jones said, "but after running 100 meters, I was out of breath and I don't think she heard me."

Lauryn Williams said she'd heard Jones "but I probably went out too quick. I did leave too early.... I just made a few mistakes, that's all. We'll be back. Next year will be a better year for us."

Angela Williams lamented what might have been. "We were there. We had it," the USC alum said. "This was a lifelong dream of mine.

"I could taste the medal."

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