Jones' fleet feet make her year's ultimate athlete

Posted: Thursday, December 28, 2000

NEW YORK -- Marion Jones failed to reach her goal of five gold medals at the Sydney Games. All she did was win more medals than any female track athlete ever had at a single Olympics.

That record-setting haul -- three golds, two bronzes -- in a personally stormy month Down Under was enough for Jones to be chosen as The Associated Press Female Athlete of the Year.

In balloting by sports writers and broadcasters, Jones received 27 first-place votes and 112 points, edging tennis star Venus Williams, runner-up with 16 1/2 firsts and 104 1/2 points. Golfer Karrie Webb was third with 30 points. Points were awarded on a 3-2-1 basis.

Last year's winner, the U.S. soccer team, didn't receive any votes this time.

The 24-year-old Jones was the 10th woman track-and-field athlete to win the honor since the award was inaugurated in 1931, and the first since the late Florence Griffith Joyner in 1988.

The imperturbable Jones earned golds in the 100 and 200 meters and the 1,600 relay, the bronzes in the long jump and 400 relay.

''I set out to do something that a lot of people thought I couldn't do,'' Jones said. ''I didn't get everything I wanted, but I didn't give in. I had a great shot and it didn't pan out. I can live with that.''

Those bronzes could have been golds, Jones said.

''That gold medal was there for the taking in the long jump,'' she said. ''And in the (400) relay, we had some injuries (Gail Devers and Inger Miller). We didn't have our best horses.

''I wanted to win them all, and I still think it's possible. But I didn't, so I'm not going to dwell on that.''

The 400 relay team didn't even practice together until the day of the race.

Jones' prediction, made two years in advance of the Sydney Games, earned her a lot of publicity, something she will avoid for the 2004 Olympics.

''I've vowed not to make a prediction such as the five golds, especially not four years prior to the next games,'' Jones said. ''But whatever I choose to do, I'll try and make it as extraordinary as possible.''

The performances by Jones at Sydney were even more extraordinary, considering what was going on around her.

Track world body, the IAAF, said midway through the games that her husband, e 1999 world shot put champion C.J. Hunter, had tested positive for the steroid nandrolone four times after the U.S. Olympic trials. The disclosure came two days after Jones' victory in the 100, meaning she had to compete in four events with that distraction.

''It was very unfortunate timing,'' Jones said.

Jones' timing on the track was impeccable.

She affirmed her status as the world's fastest woman, winning the 100 at 10.75 seconds, her victory margin of 0.37 seconds the second-largest in Olympic history. She won the 200 at 21.84, her victory margin of 0.43 seconds the largest behind Wilma Rudolph's in 1960. Jones' 100 and 200 times were the fastest in the world this year.

She helped the 1,600 relay team to victory at 3:22.62 with a powerful third leg of 49.4, the same as Australia's Cathy Freeman, the 400 gold medalist. No one else came close to running that fast, and it was even more remarkable because Jones dislikes the 400 and had not run on a 1,600 relay since she was a sophomore at North Carolina.

Overall, the durable Jones competed 12 times during nine days of track and field at the games -- in four rounds of the 100, four rounds of the 200, a long jump qualifying round and the final, on the anchor leg of the 400 relay final and in the 1,600 relay final.

She also had the six fastest times and eight of the best nine of the season in the 100; the two fastest in the world in the 200; the best long jump by an American and fourth-best in the world, 23 feet, 1/2 inch; the fastest 400 by an American and fifth-fastest in the world, 49.59; ran on the world's fastest 1,600-meter relay team; and anchored a U.S. team to a world record of 1:27.46 in the 800-meter relay.

Jones' bronze in the long jump, her weakest event, was a disappointment.

''The bronze medal is not going to make me crawl into a shell and never look at the event again,'' she said. ''I've jumped far in the past, and I think I can jump far in the future.

''If anything, this will motivate me for next year's World Championship and for Athens (site of the 2004 Olympics).

Williams also starred at the Olympics. She won the women's singles title and teamed with sister Serena to win women's doubles. Venus also had a 35-match winning streak during the year that included titles at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.

To cap her year, Williams signed a five-year contract for a reported $40 million with Reebok, the richest endorsement deal for a female athlete.



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