With her first U.S. sprint title in four years, Marion Jones took stridestoward rehabilitating her stained reputation
As Marion Jonesentered the blocks for the 100-meter final at the USA Championships inIndianapolis last Friday evening, an interested spectator watched from thestands. "Need to see how she looks," said Maurice Greene, who, likeJones, won a gold medal in the 100 at the 2000 Olympics. Never known for havinggreat starts, Jones exploded off the blocks. "Woo, did you see thatstart?" said Greene. "Nothing's stopping her."
Nothing did. Jonesled by a half-stride at 60 meters, then held off Torri Edwards, the 2003 worldchamp, and Lauryn Williams, the '05 world champ. In the day's thirdsprint--rain had canceled Thursday's heats--Jones crossed the line in 11.10seconds and calmly raised her hand at the finish. Williams and Edwards wereeach .07 off the pace.
"Is sheback?" Greene was asked by his Olympic sprint teammate Jon Drummond. Greenemerely nodded toward Jones, fingered the three chains around his neck,including one with a silver embossed #1, and said, "Gettin' some."
Medals, though,are now an afterthought for Jones, especially in a year that features neitheran Olympics nor a world championships. At 30, six years removed from herfive-medal performance in Sydney, she is running to rehabilitate a body rustedby inactivity and a reputation eroded by scandal. Her aim is to again be No. 1in the world, and she says, "I think my motivation is at a level I haven'tseen since Sydney."
Although she hasnever tested positive for drugs, Jones was accused in 2004 of using steroids byher ex-husband, former world champion shot putter C.J. Hunter, and BALCOfounder Victor Conte. Tim Montgomery, the father of Jones's three-year-old son,Monty, retired from the sport last year after being stripped of his worldrecord in the 100 meters and banned for two years based on evidence from theBALCO investigations. Those investigations had begun in '03 after TrevorGraham, a coach Jones had recently dismissed, gave the U.S. Anti-Doping Agencya syringe containing the designer steroid THG, which had escaped detection indrug tests.
The win inIndianapolis marked Jones's fifth national title in the 100 but her first since2002. She skipped '03 to give birth to Monty, finished fourth at the Olympictrials in '04--and failed to medal in Athens--and ended her '05 season afterEuropean promoters refused to invite her to meets because of the drugaccusations. The freeze-out ended two months ago when Jones raced in theNetherlands, winning in 11.16 seconds. Twice this year she's run a decent 11.06into a headwind and hopes to run in European meets this summer.
Still, Jones, whowas once featured in ad campaigns for Nike, Panasonic and American Express,remains without a sponsor and ran in Indianapolis in a logo-free outfit.Privately, some U.S. track officials wish Jones would stay away. ("She'sdone enough damage," said one official recently.) The meet program atIndianapolis mentioned Jones in passing; the cover featured Justin Gatlin, thesprinter who in the last two years has won Olympic and world titles, tied the100-meter world record at 9.77 seconds and won over fans by being accessibleand humble. It is ironic that Gatlin, unlike Jones, has had a positive drugtest, for an amphetamine in 2001--the result, he says, of medication he hadtaken to treat attention deficit disorder. He got a two-year suspension, whichwas later cut in half.
Gatlin won themen's 100 in Indianapolis last Friday and later strolled under the CarrollStadium stands signing autographs, determined to be "the people'schampion," as he puts it. Of his interactions with the crowd, he says,"Those are the things we want track fans to remember."
Jones, meanwhile,has a lot that she wants to make fans forget.
Phelps Ahead OfSchedule
Donna de Varona,Pablo Morales, Don Schollander, Mark Spitz.... The list of swimming greatsintroduced at the 39th Santa Clara International Meet last Friday went on andon. Thirty-two of the 46 Santa Clara Swim Club members who had become Olympianshad returned to George F. Haines International Swim Center for a tribute toHaines, the club's founder who died on May 1 at the age of 82.
"It'sridiculous how many stars George Haines turned out," said freestyler KleteKeller, a two-time Olympian who watched the ceremony. "I don't think itwill ever be done again."
The days of aclub's winning more golds at an Olympics than every nation but one (as SantaClara did in 1964 in Tokyo, where they won 13) may be over. But if theperformances in Santa Clara were an indication, the U.S. will have no shortageof swimming stars in 2008 in Beijing.
Last Friday,Keller's Club Wolverine teammate Michael Phelps, the winner of six gold and twobronze medals at the 2004 Athens Games, won the 400 individual medley in4:11.40, crushing his two-year-old meet record of 4:14.98 and giving him thefastest time in the world this year. "When I heard the announcer sayfour-eleven, I was shocked," says Phelps. Fellow Athens gold medalistNatalie Coughlin was also in good form. She set four meet records in two days,thrashing the field in the 100 free with a time of 54.06, just .07 off her U.S.record.
Phelps'sperformance--on Saturday he won the 200 back in a swift time of 1:57.23 and seta meet record of 52.20 in the 100 butterfly--was a contrast to last summer'sworld championships, at which he failed to qualify for the 400-free final andfinished seventh in the 100 free. "Last year was a transitional year,"says his coach, Bob Bowman. "Michael was trying to get over Athens andbuild toward something else. He's now in the kind of shape where he can thinkabout swimming faster than he ever has--and he can go a lot faster."
Phelps canattribute his current speed and conditioning in part to something Haines'sSanta Clara swimmers took for granted: training against great competition everyday. Phelps joined Club Wolverine, a private team that trains at the Universityof Michigan, after Athens. There he swims alongside fellow Olympians Keller,Peter Vanderkaay and Erik Vendt. "Every day [we're] going at it inpractice," says Phelps. "If you're not on, you're going to getrocked."
The swimmers'long-term goal is just as clear. "There are less than two years [until]Beijing," Phelps says. "The countdown has started. The faster we swimnow, the faster we can swim in two years."
Last Saturday, Willie Gault (right) set a world recordfor 100 meters in the master's division (runners aged 45 to 49). His time,10.72 seconds, shattered the mark of 10.96 set by Neville Hodge in 2001.
Breaking barriers is nothing new for Gault, 45, a trackand football star at Tennessee who also played 11 NFL seasons. In 1983 he ranthe second leg of the U.S. relay team that set a world record (37.86 seconds)in the 4√ó100-meter relay at the world championships in Helsinki. In 1985 he wona Super Bowl with Chicago. He became an alternate on the Olympic bobsled teamin 1988 and later danced with the Chicago Ballet.
¬†BLUE-RIBBON DAY In her wire-to-wire win, Jones (fourth from right) held off twohard-charging competitors. Gatlin (inset) won too.
[See Above Caption]
PETER READ MILLER
WORLD BEATER Primed by his daily training partners, Phelps swam this year's fastest 400 IM.