Jones intense focus puts an impossible goal in the realm of possibility

Posted: Friday, September 29, 2000

SYDNEY-Marion Jones' Olympic gold medal express keeps chugging along.

She added a second gold medal Thursday night in the 200 meters to go with her earlier medal in the 100 meters.

All she needs to keep her satisfied is three more. Three more? Most humans don't get one gold medal in a lifetime and Marion wants three in two days.

Sounds impossible, but I hope she makes it.

The personable track star with the megawatt smile set herself up as a big fat target when she announced months ago that her goal was to win five golds at the Olympics, something no woman in track had ever done before.

The task took on mythic proportions when earlier this week it was disclosed that her husband, world champion shot putter C.J. Hunter, had tested positive for illegal drugs during a meet this summer.

How could Marion hold up under even more pressure? Surely she would be distracted by all the attention swirling around her husband. There even was a strange press conference where she pledged to stand by her man. She could have taken the easy way out and said she didn't know anything, but she chose the more difficult route of full support.

And in the background C.J. sat with tears running down his cheeks, denying everything and pledging he would get to the bottom of how this could have happened. That's not exactly the kind of help you're looking for from your spouse when you're trying to break new ground.

But it's the hand Marion's been dealt and now she's playing it like it was a royal flush.

"I'm really enjoying it," she said of her Olympic experience. "If it were my fifth Olympics (it might be different), but it is my first Olympics. It still means a lot."

She blew away a world class field in the 200 meters to win by nearly half a second. They weren't giving her anything. Everyone in that race ran their best race of the season and the second-place finisher set a personal best. Jones still beat them all by .43 seconds. Coming off the turn there was no one else in sight.

"The dream is still alive," she said after the race. "That was pretty tough. I'm glad my sprints are done now and were successful. Now I can look forward to jumping well tomorrow. You couldn't have written the script any better for tonight.

"The ladies out here gave me a run for my money and made me earn it. It was a very challenging race."

As hard as the sprints are, the toughest part of the challenge is still to come. The long jump is her weakest event, and she hasn't had enough time to devote practicing for it because of her other races. Her technique is shaky, but she has relied on talent to carry her, and so far that has been successful. In the middle of running her sprints she qualified for the long jump on her first jump.

If she survives that test Friday, on Saturday she must run two relay races to complete the dream.

"Right now my total focus is on the long jump," she said in response to a question about the 4 x 400 team. "I'm still quite confident the U.S. is going to be fine in the relays."

The 400 relay could end up being the shakiest part of the dream. It's a difficult race under any circumstances, and with this kind of worldwide attention you have to wonder if Marion's teammates will be able to withstand the pressure.

Still, if she already has four gold medals would you bet against Marion on the anchor leg of the relay, no matter how far behind she is? Wouldn't that be grand, watching her come off the final turn one more time, chasing her dream?

Let's just hope C.J. doesn't roll a loose shot put out onto the track while she's running.

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