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Motherhood could spur Jones to new heights

April 17, 2003 11:33 IST
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Marion Jones's rivals had better not start celebrating too soon.

While the triple Olympic winner's pregnancy may give her challengers the opportunity to grab the major honours this season, the chances of Jones simply fading away into obscurity after she gives birth remain slim.

No doubt, runners such as 100 metres world champion Zhanna Block will make the most of Jones' absence to increase their gold medal haul. But there is little likelihood of that winning streak continuing in 2004.

The 27-year-old Jones, who is expecting her first child with men's 100 metres record holder Tim Montgomery in July, has already outlined her plans to return to competition next year to focus on the Athens Olympics.

"Being pregnant does not take away how competitive I am... I am confident I'll have plenty of time to be ready for Athens," said Jones, who will be skipping August's world championships in Paris.

Except for her stunning defeat by Ukraine's Block at the 2001 World Championships in Edmonton, the American has dominated over 100 metres since 1997 and there is no reason why she cannot recapture her winning ways once she makes her comeback.

Past performances show that women athletes who are determined to return to the top after embracing motherhood can succeed in their quest.

If Jones wants inspiration, she need look no further then her fellow Americans Evelyn Ashford and Valerie Brisco-Hooks.

After becoming a mother, Brisco-Hooks became the first sprinter to complete the Olympic 200 and 400m double at the 1984 Los Angeles Games while Ashford captured two Olympic relay titles following the birth of her daughter in 1985.

Jones, who won three gold medals and two bronzes at the 2000 Sydney Games, knows she can return an even more formidable competitor at next year's Olympics since hormone benefits from childbirth are well documented.

Ashford even said being pregnant was 'better for you than a store full of vitamins or steroids or anything else' after she successfully combined her track and field career with her role as a mother.

Athletics is not the only sporting arena in which mothers have succeeded.

Australians Evonne Goolagong and Margaret Smith Court proved that starting a family did not necessarily spell the end of a top-flight tennis career.

While Court captured three Grand Slam crowns after the birth of her first child in February 1972, Goolagong became the first mother in the Open era to triumph at Wimbledon in 1980.

The reason the

feat has not been repeated is probably that the top women these days choose to hold off having a family until they permanently hang up their tennis racquets.

For others, having a child has spurred them on to prolong their careers.

Uzbekistan gymnast Oxana Chusovitina has tirelessly continued the rounds of international competition to help raise money to treat her seriously ill son.

Despite being 27 -- well above the average age in a sport dominated by teenagers -- Chusovitina remains competitive because she has her eye on the nominal prize money on offer which allows three-year-old Alisher, who was diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukaemia and has undergone chemotherapy in Germany, to continue receiving treatment.

"If I don't participate then my son won't live, it's as simple as that," said Chusovitina, who has competed at the top ever since winning her first major title at the 1991 world championships in Indianapolis.

"The only reason my son managed to get treatment is because I am earning money."

Chusovitina had no medical insurance to pay for Alisher's treatment.

"I have no choice (because)...if I don't compete I can't get any money for the treatment," added Chusovitina, who won a gold medal at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics as a member of the former Soviet Union team.

Austrian skier Ulrike Maier, who died in 1994 after breaking her neck in a crash during a World Cup Alpine skiing downhill, credited her daughter for her superlative efforts on the slopes.

In 1989, Maier won her first super-G world title after learning she was two months pregnant and she repeated the feat two years later when her daughter Melanie was 18 months old.

In 1991, Melanie was waiting at the finish line when her mother swept to success in Saalbach, Austria, prompting Maier to jokingly say: "I had her at the finish line so I would get there faster."

Motherhood, then, is unlikely to stop Jones in her tracks. Instead the chances are that she will come back faster and more determined than ever.

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