August 22, 2000


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Jones sees visions of Owens

Gene Cherry in Raleigh, North Carolina

Visions of Jesse Owens dance across Marion Jones's mind as she prepares for next month's Sydney Olympics and a possible five gold medals.

Marion Jones in training"The first thing that pops into my head was when Jesse Owens was at Ohio State and he set three world records in a span of two hours," Jones said in an interview. "Perhaps that is on the same level."

No Olympic fanfare sounded that May day in 1935. The setting was Ann Arbor, Michigan, and the event the Big Ten Conference collegiate championships.

In the space of 45 minutes, Owens in fact broke five world records and equalled another in a stirring prelude to his four gold medal haul at Berlin's 1936 Games.

Now Jones seeks to become the most decorated female athletics gold medallist in a single Olympics with titles in the 100 and 200 metres, long jump and 4x100 and 4x400 metres relays.

"She's the greatest female track and field athlete out there right now," said double Olympic champion Michael Johnson. "I would not bet against her."

"She has dominated the 100 and 200 metres and has the opportunity to go out there and do something nobody has ever done. Carl Lewis didn't do it, Jesse Owens didn't do it."

Finn Paavo Nurmi won five gold medals at the 1924 Games. But no woman has won more gold than the quartet Fanny Blankers-Koen gathered for the Netherlands during the 1948 Games.

"I've had some wonderful things that have happened to me," Jones said. "I've had much success."

"But finally I think I am able to say that this whole experience, making the Olympic team, to try and go and do these wonderful things in Sydney, definitely tops the list."

Jones will be accompanied by her husband and world shot put champion C.J. Hunter.

"It's hard to put into words how I feel, and how all of us feel," said Jones, sitting on a stage with Hunter, coach Trevor Graham and two other members of their training group who will be competing in the Sydney Games.

"It has been many years since I dreamed about making my first Olympic team. As everybody knows the story, I was nine years old and I wrote on my chalkboard that I wanted to be an Olympic champion. Now that I am 24 and have the chance to do it, I'm not going to let it slip through my fingers."

"I've had the injuries, I've had the setbacks and now I have a chance, and I'm going to make it worth it."

That passion, said Johnson, is what powered him to the 200m and 400m doubles at the 1996 Atlanta Games.

"If she has won the 100, if she has won the 200, if she has pulled it off in the long jump and the 4x100 and she needs the last little piece to make her dream come true, that gets the adrenaline flowing pretty good.

"That's the reason I wound up running 19.32 (200 metres world record) because that was the last little piece."

"It's not going to be easy for her, but it can be done," Johnson added. "She dominates the sprints. The long jump is her weakest event but we know she is capable of putting a jump out there longer than anybody else can."

Victory, even by a centimetre, over a long jump field at Zurich loaded with Sydney contenders has given Jones a major boost.

"We're on top of our game," said coach Graham. "I know now what it takes to motivate Marion to jump far and what it takes for her to jump far. In the past, it was difficult for me to figure out what she was doing, but now I know what to tell her."

Confidence already abounds in the sprints.

"If I put my race together, it would be very difficult to beat me," Jones said. "But I am totally aware that the other women are running great and have every intention of spoiling this whole Sydney thing for me. That's what keeps it exciting."

The excitement lasted for only one final at what was to have been a preview of Sydney: the 1999 world championships.

Jones, the 1997 100 metres champion, crashed out in the 200 metres semifinals with back spasms after finishing third in the long jump. She did not run the 4x100-metre relay, which was to be her fourth event at Seville.

Graham, Jones's coach since she returned to the sport in 1997 following an All-America basketball career at the University of North Carolina, vowed there will be no repeat in Sydney.

"She is in the best shape of her life," he said.

Only a sharper start in the sprints and a smoother approach in the long jump needed to be finalised before the Games, Graham said.

"Everything else is clicking."

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