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September 22, 2000
Marion Jones begins bidJohn Mehaffey
Marion Jones begins her quest for a record five gold medals at a single Olympic Games today (Friday) when she lines up in Sydney for the first heats in the women's 100 metres.
She's officially a sprinter but the American superwoman of track and field faces a task more akin to a marathon, a supreme athletic test that will get progressively more difficult as she nears her goal.
With a personal best time of 10.65, Jones is the overwhelming favourite to win the 100 metres in the absence through injury of long-term rival Inger Miller.
Even if Miller makes a full recovery from a left hamstring injury sustained in training this month, she is unlikely to beat Jones in the 200.
The long jump is technically Jones's weakest event, a fact she freely concedes while pointing out that with her basic speed she is capable of jumping further than anybody in the field.
The Americans will have the four fastest women in the 4x100 metres relay, after which it will be the 4x400 relay and another step into the unknown.
The Russians are traditionally strong in the 4x400 and beat the United States, without Jones, at last year's Seville world championships.
The United States have not yet decided on their running order and it is possible Jones could run the final leg a metre or two down on her opponent, providing the best possible climax to the Games.
"I love running the relay," Jones said. "It could all come down to the last event."
Irina Privalova, the 100 metres bronze medallist at the 1992 Barcelona Games, is a probable starter in the Russian 4x400 quartet at the end of a remarkable season for the 31-year-old.
Privalova has switched from the flat to the 400 metres hurdles this season and although her technique is raw her basic speed makes her a gold medal possibility in Sydney.
American Gail Devers will not defend her 100 metres title after finishing out of the places in the U.S. trials and she will now concentrate all her energies on the high hurdles.
Devers has won three world titles over the 100 hurdles but does not yet have an Olympic title after crashing over the final barrier in Barcelona.
"I don't think about the 100 metres," Devers said. "Now is the time for me to be a hurdler."
Cathy Freeman's chances of winning the 400 metres for Australia were dramatically boosted on Thursday with the news of the bizarre departure from Sydney of defending champion Marie-Jose Perec of France, who claimed that she had been threatened at her hotel.
The probability of wind and the possibility of cool conditions make world records unlikely on the track.
But the world marks could fall in two events making their Olympic debut.
American Stacy Dragila is confident she can improve her current world mark of 4.63 metres in the pole vault and Romanian Mihaela Melinte may break her own hammer record of 76.07 metres.
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