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Worth the gamble?

Putting Jones on 4 x 100-meter relay team is a big risk

Posted: Wednesday August 11, 2004 8:01PM; Updated: Thursday August 12, 2004 4:44PM
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  Marion Jones
Marion Jones did not look sharp at the track and field trials in Sacramento, Calif. last month.
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

One element of the Marion Jones issue has been resolved for U.S. Track and Field. Another more daunting one remains.

You know the Marion Jones issue, right? It's the one where the erstwhile Mrs. Jones competes in the Olympic Games with doping issues hanging over her head, wins a medal and then is later disqualified and stripped of her medal, bringing dishonor and embarrassmentdown upon herself, the U.S. team, and the beleagured sport of track and field.

Before the U.S. Olympic Trials, there were numerous athletes on this shaky plank, but only Jones --- so far, but keep reading --- is scheduled to compete in Athens. Jones has qualified to compete in the long jump and despite jumping far below her best levels, could win a gold medal in an event that is abysmal on the international stage.

There was also the possibility that Jones might have competed in the 100 meters, despite finishing a sluggish fifth in the Trials last month in Sacramento. It now appears almost certain that 100-meter runner-up and reigning world champion Torri Edwards will receive a two-year doping suspension that will knock her out of the Games. Thus, trials fourth-place finisher Gail Devers was given the option of running the 100 meters at the Games, and has told U.S. women's track coach Sue Humphrey that she will do so. If Devers had not run the 100, the spot would have gone to Jones.

The controversy surrounding Mrs. Jones, however, is far from over. What to do about the 4 x 100-meter relay?

Leaving Sacramento last month, there was buzz about whether Jones would be placed on the 4 x 100 team. Since Jones had finished only fifth in the 100 and looked far off her best form, it would have required Humphrey to essentially award a gift to Jones, giving her a chance to win a medal. Considering the coded laugauge coming out of the USATF camp regarding the inclusion on relays of athletes with potential doping violations ("I promise you, if we win any medals, we're not going to be sending any of them back," said men's coach George Williams), it seemed unlikely Humphrey would take a needless chance on Jones.

Now that chance doesn't look so needless. Team USA's won a 4 x 100-meter relay in a solid 41.67 seconds last week in Munich, the best time in the world this year. Jones ran the second leg on that team, joined by leadoff Angela Williams, third leg Lauryn Williams and Trials 100-meter winner Latasha Colander.

This is a fragile lineup. Anglea Williams is a good starter who hasn't had a great season and finished seventh in the Trials 100. Lauryn Williams is a terrific talent who ran the long indoor/outdoor season at Miami and whose open 100s since the Trials suggest that she might be running out of gas. Colander is a total wild card; she flew to victory in the Trials 100, but pulled out of the 200 and her coach, the embattled Trevor Graham, accused her of faking the injujry. They later reconciled, but Colander did not run a single race in Europe until the Munich 4X100. Is she fit enough to anchor an Olympic sprint relay and more to the point, does she have the backbone?

Replacements? Edwards would have been a no-brainer, but she's probably gone. Devers told Humphrey to let the new girls run. "But she also said that if it got to crunch time and we needed her, she would be available," Humphrey said Wednesday. Maybe 18-year-old Allyson Felix, owner of the fastest 200 time in the world this year, could step in. After that it's a long line of untested wannabes like Consuella More and LaShaunta'e Moore, sprinters who might win medals someday, but appeared overmatched for now.

The reality is that for now, Jones, even a Jones diminished by childbirth, anxiety or coaching changes, is one of the four best runners in a USA uniform. "She's running better than at the Trials, and getting sharper every day," says Humphrey, who presided over workouts in Munich and on the Greek island of Crete.

Good for her. But it's a problem. Five guys ran with Jerome Young in Sydney and now they might have to give back their gold medals. Jones might be innocent and might not. Running her is a gamble. Two dice rolled in pursuit of a medal, in hopes that it will never be returned.

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