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COLUMNISTS

Sat, August 28, 2004

Jones' star on the decline


FOR CONSPIRACY theorists and America-bashers it was a gold-medal performance, one too good to be true. For Marion Jones, a sprinter disgraced so far by association only, it was too cruel to be real.

It had been an agonizing year under the worst kind of microscope, one that had stripped Jones of her dignity.

BIG STORY

One that had made her a synonym for BALCO, perhaps the most explosive performance-enhancing drug story yet.

And one that seemed to have much of the world wishing she would fail.

Now, in front of 75,000 dancing, chanting spectators here at the Athens Olympic Stadium, the hell that wouldn't end suddenly was blasting by too fast.

"Wait up, wait up," Jones yelled at Lauryn Williams, the U.S. teammate she was to hand the baton to for the third leg of the women's 4x100-metre relay final.

It was too late for Williams, however, and much too late for Jones to salvage something from this season of shame.

As Jones reached out with the baton -- lunging really -- Williams had passed out of the exchange zone and it was Games over. For most of the 20-metre stretch, Jones waved the stick desperately. But by then, Williams was long gone.

So was Jones' final chance for a sliver of redemption and a slice of retribution to her critics.

"I couldn't get it to her, I just couldn't get it to her," the five-time medallist from Sydney said, shaking her head. "It just did not happen ... that's the way this sport goes."

The blame game likely will finger both. It was Jones who couldn't find the handle early in the zone and it was Williams who got too far away too fast.

And it was all too wild. Less than an hour earlier, Jones had skipped out of the long jump with a series of weak efforts, including a pair of faults. A fifth-place finish in that event left the relay as the final shot.

It was a good shot, too, considering the U.S. had the best time of the year heading into the Games. All the Americans had to do was finish, it seemed, and a medal of some colour would be the consolation prize heading Jones' way.

"I could sit here and make excuses," said Jones, who put her arm around Williams' shoulder and walked the 200 metres back to the finish line. "But it just didn't happen for me."

It was at this point Jones, the supposed ugly face of American track, the one who had been elusive all summer and reclusive here in Athens, suddenly seemed human.

Tears rolled down her face as she gripped her teammates' hands while finally facing the media.

Of course, by this point the skeptics were weighing in. How could she fail so dramatically in two events she should have earned a medal?

Was she handing in her medal before the results of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency were complete? Was she failing on purpose so as to not drag her teammates through this? Had her attachment to the BALCO mess been her downfall?

Whatever the story, the Greek Games couldn't have ended in a more dramatically different way for Jones than the Down Under Games did four years ago.

"When I woke up (yesterday) morning, this is not the way I figured the day would end," Jones said.

NOT THE END

Then, as she turned to walk away, her head held high, Jones was asked if this was it, the end of her Olympic story.

"No way," Jones said.

"No way."

Of that she is correct.

Good news or bad, this is not the last we've heard of Marion Jones.


Does Canada's low-medal haul in Athens bother you?
Yes, it depresses me
No, it's just sports
I'm disappointed, but not worried
We'll get 'em in Turin
Don't care

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