400 relay disaster completes Jones' tumble from heights

Disqualification follows 5th-place long jump finish

It goes from bad to worse for Jones

August 28, 2004|By George Diaz | George Diaz,ORLANDO SENTINEL

ATHENS - The Olympic experience is complete for Marion Jones.

About all she will leave with are souvenir pins.

A botched relay handoff followed her failure to medal in the long jump yesterday evening, making the Athens experience a wipeout for a woman who won five medals at the Games four years ago.

"Never in my wildest dreams - in a negative sense," she answered a question regarding her three days of competition that began with a qualifying round in the long jump Wednesday.

Tears streaming down her face, Jones had the pained look of someone no longer a track diva.

Fate has not been kind to Jones over the last year. Tainted by suspicion of having used performance-enhancing drugs, her boyfriend Tim Montgomery facing a lifetime ban for alleged steroid use and her inability to qualify for any of the sprint events she won in Sydney, Jones came here looking to hang onto some semblance of respectability.

That hope unraveled last night.

Running the second leg in a 400-meter relay race in which a U.S. victory was virtually assured, Jones could not get the baton to Lauyrn Williams, who appeared to leave early.

Screaming, "Wait up! Wait up!" Jones was able to get the baton to Williams on the second try, but, by then, Williams had stepped out of the 20-meter handoff zone. That meant automatic disqualification.

This from a team expecting to break Germany's world record of 41.37 seconds.

A U.S. foursome had won the women's 400 relay in four of the past five Olympics. Handoff problems dropped the team to bronze in 2000.

"The baton didn't get around," Jones said. "I really don't even know what happened. Angela [Williams] ran a great leg. I thought I ran a good leg. I couldn't get the baton to Lauryn. It didn't happen today. We came in here as a team, and you know what? We're going to head out of here with our heads held high, knowing we did the best we could today."

After the race ended with Jamaica winning gold in 41.73, Jones put an arm around Lauryn Williams and circled the track. The four sprinters then met reporters together beneath Olympic Stadium.

A little more than an hour earlier, Jones finished fifth in the long jump, doing worse with each attempt. Tatyana Lebedeva led an unprecedented sweep of the medals for Russia.

Jones jumped 22 feet, 5 3/4 inches on her second attempt after fouling on her first, and finished with a 21-9 in which she took off well back of the foul line.

She waved to the crowd before going to warm up for the relay.

"She doesn't seem to have the same aura as she used to," said Bronwyn Thompson of Australia, who finished fourth. "And she doesn't exude the same sort of confidence as she used to.

"It probably has to do with where her head was at because of the controversy surrounding her. I think it was very difficult for her to get her head in the right place tonight."

It will be a long trip home.

Jones, 28, is under investigation by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency for allegedly using human growth hormone, the designer steroid THG, insulin and EPO, a drug that boosts the production of oxygen-carrying red blood cells.

"When I woke up this morning, this wasn't how I figured the day to end," Jones said. "I can go home now and regroup and get ready for next year."

The night at the track wasn't a complete disappointment for the United States.

Tim Mack, clearing an Olympic record 19-6 1/4 , led a 1-2 American finish in the pole vault. Toby Stevenson won the silver medal with a vault of 19-4 1/4 .

Their two medals pushed the U.S. track and field team's total to 21, one more than it won four years ago in Sydney.

Mack, whose career record is relatively undistinguished, did not seem ready to change that when he missed his first attempt at 18-6 1/2 .

"You realize there is a possibility of going out at that height," Mack said. "You think you shouldn't realize it, but it's all right if you use it to turn things around."

Mack, 32, cleared 18-6 1/2 on his second try (of three permitted attempts), then 19-2 1/4 on his second try, then matched his personal best of 19-4 1/4 on his first. At that point, he still was behind Stevenson based on fewest misses. Mack cleared the winning height on his third try.

Liu Xiang, 21, became the first Chinese man to win an Olympic track title with an eyebrow-raising performance in the 110 hurdles. Liu, whose previous best had been 13.06 seconds, matched the 11-year-old world record of 12.91 set by Colin Jackson of Great Britain.

Terrence Trammell of the United States ran 13.18 and won a second straight silver medal.

In the nine Olympics since times have been calculated to two decimal places, only U.S. hurdler Roger Kingdom had a larger winning margin (.30 of a second in 1988).

The Chicago Tribune contributed to this article. The Orlando Sentinel and Chicago Tribune are Tribune Publishing newspapers.

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