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September 26, 2000
Freeman takes on Jones in ultimte showdownThe Rediff Team
The Sydney stage is now set for the ultimate celebration of 100 years of women in athletics -- a track showdown between Cathy Freeman and Marion Jones.
Freeman's coach Peter Fortune confirmed that Freeman will compete in the 200m (as also the 4x400 relay). And Freeman herself said she wanted one more taste of Olympic glory.
The Australian athlete is on a high. Clear favourite in the women's 400m, she took the event easily -- but the adoring home crowd has been giving the win the kind of press you would reserve for the Second Coming.
Freeman confirmed the crowd's impact on her when, at the end of her golden run on Monday evening, she sat down on the track for a bit. "It was incredible," she said at the media briefing. "It was like I could feel the crowd all round me, all over me, out there, I could feel the emotion seep into every pore."
With that backing behind her, she should be a very, very tough competitor to beat.
As is Marion Jones, the fastest over the distance in the last couple of years. The adrenalin should be pumping for the American superstar now, given her self-set target of five golds and her storming win in the 100m which marked the beginning of that quest.
However, if the crowd puts wings on Cathy's feet, it could equally put shackles on the Nike-shod feet of Marion Jones -- 110,000 people in Stadium Australia will be against her when she races the local favourite, and that is a daunting prospect for any athlete.
As if that wasn't handicap enough, she also has the additional burden of husband and coach C J Hunter, the world shot put champion, testing positive for drugs. Already, sections of the media have, through headlines of the 'Marion Jones involved in drugs scandal' kind, tried to tar the runner with her husband's crime. Illogical, certainly -- after all, if Hunter had been involved in a rape, the headlines could hardly read 'Marion Jones in rape case'. But then, any stick is good enough to beat the favourite with, if her opposite number just happens to be the local heroine.
The two women will face off on Wednesday, for the heats -- unless, as is more likely, they find themselves in different heats of the event. The final is on Thursday.
Meanwhile, former Olympic speed skating champion Johann Koss, IOC's man on the World Anti-Doping Authority, made some very intriguing statements.
Tacitly admitting that the Hunter revelations could put additional pressure on Marion Jones' quest for five golds, Koss said that if such a thing happened, the USTAF would only have itself to blame, for attempting to cover up.
Refuting the buzz that the timing of the announcement was a deliberate ploy to derail Jones, Koss pointed out that the test results had been passed on to the USTAF in July.
In an interview to Nine Network, Koss said, "I should think this is affecting her a lot to prepare for the rest of the Games, and I think that's unfair for her. But I think the US Track and Field should have released this a long time before this happened, so this wouldn't happen now just during the Games."
Koss, however, pointed out that it was unfair to link Jones directly to the Hunter results. "These are two totally different cases," he said. "Marion Jones is under a lot of pressure now and certainly she is totally innocent, and she has no relation to his positive case, and I think this is very clear."
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