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The High (Schoolers) And Mighty The sport's future and present in the U.S. crossed paths in Raleigh, N.C.


Marion Jones knows a lot about the potential of youth. During
her high school years in Southern California she was one of the
most precocious track athletes in U.S. history, winning nine
state titles, setting a national high school record in the 200
meters (22.58 seconds) and earning a relay spot on the 1992 U.S.
Olympic team, which she turned down because she preferred to
wait four years and attend her first Games as an individual
entrant. Few athletes have shown more promise so young, and
Jones has never lost touch with the successes of her youth.

Last year she donated $25,000 to the national scholastic indoor
championship meet, citing her fond memories of competing in it
from 1990 to '93. Jones's affection for high school track made
for sweet synergy last weekend when some of the best high school
athletes since her time competed in the Foot Locker Outdoor
Track and Field Championships in Raleigh, N.C., her adopted
hometown, where a USA Track & Field Golden Spike Tour event was
also being held.

Who better than a former prodigy to appreciate this year's
almost unprecedented flood of young talent in track? Last Friday
night, after the day's brutal heat and humidity had given way to
the evening's brutal heat and humidity, Dathan Ritzenhein, a
junior at Rockford (Mich.) High, won the two mile in 8:47.3,
crushing one of the best high school distance fields ever
assembled. Ritzenhein, a 5'7" 110-pounder who last fall won the
national high school cross-country championship, prevailed with
a sustained move, typical of much older runners, that began more
than 1,000 meters from the finish. Despite lingering weariness
from a failed attempt six days earlier to qualify for the
Olympic trials in the 5,000 meters (the standard is 13:48, and
Ritzenhein ran 14:13, also in extreme heat), he ran the second
mile in Raleigh faster than the first, 4:18 to 4:29.

One day after Ritzenhein's tour de force, senior Rickey Harris
of Centreville (Va.) High won the 400-meter hurdles in 51.14
seconds, slower than his season's best of 50.29 but spectacular
considering that it followed a 60-minute thunderstorm delay and
that Harris smashed into three hurdles. "I never had my race
rhythm," said Harris, whose father, Rickie, is a former
Washington Redskins defensive back. Young Rickey, who will
attend Florida in the fall, had come to the meet chasing the
national record of 50.02, and his failure to get the mark left
him sobbing near the track.

Jones, meanwhile, wasn't reduced to tears by her second
long-jump competition of the year, at the Pontiac Grand Prix
Invitational in Raleigh, but she also did nothing to make her
opponents weep. One day after two-time Olympic long-jump
champion Jackie Joyner-Kersee, 38, came out of a two-year
retirement to officially enter the U.S. Olympic Trials, Jones
jumped a meager 21'6" to finish second. While that leap was an
improvement of nearly a foot over Jones's dismal season-opening
long jump, on May 13 in Osaka, Japan, it wasn't good enough to
make anyone believe that her five-gold-medal plan for Sydney
won't end in the sand. "Right now she's gambling that she can
get off one good jump," says retired men's world-record holder
Mike Powell. Jones's Raleigh leap left her as only the
sixth-best American in the event this year and far out of the
world's top 50.

On Saturday, Jones and her coach, Trevor Graham, scrapped a
two-season experiment in making her a power jumper who explodes
into the air off the board, and they returned to her old form,
in which Jones simply sprints off the board on an almost flat
arc over the sand. The result is a jarring landing that sends
Jones forward onto her knees, but in 1998 the technique produced
a leap of nearly 24 feet. After her jump on Saturday, Graham
praised her takeoff but criticized her approach, while Jones
loved her approach.

Notably, the winner of the long jump in Raleigh was Chandra
Sturrup of the Bahamas, who went 21' 11 3/4" in her first
competition since 1995. Sturrup trains with Jones and is coached
by Graham. "He's changed things," Sturrup says. "Technically,
Trevor has helped me." He will need to perform similar magic on
Jones--and soon--if she hopes to keep the luster on her
five-gold dream.


Jones's long jump wasn't good enough to make anyone believe in
her five-gold-medal plan for Sydney.

Ritzenhein crushed a formidable high school distance field.