Adding Jones to relay team could backfire on Humphrey
Posted: Thursday August 26, 2004 11:34AM; Updated: Thursday August 26, 2004 11:34AM
Late Wednesday night in Athens, Sue Humphrey, head coach of the U.S. women's Olympic track and field team, announced the lineup for the 4X100-meter relay. Angela Williams will lead off and pass to Marion Jones, who will pass to Lauryn Williams, who will pass to anchor LaTasha Colander. They will run in both Thursday's semifinals and Friday's finals, assuming they advance, which they should, and easily. The final against Jamaica will be another matter.
The lineup is not a surprise. It is, however, a mistake. For two reasons:
1) As stated repeatedly in this space over the last several weeks, the risk of losing medals if Jones is eventually found to have used performance-enhancing substances and banned, is simply too great. Mrs. Jones has never tested positive for a banned substance and has repeatedly denied ever using them. However, she has been implicated in the ongoing BALCO case and clearly is not out of the woods yet. Humphrey has said that she has no solid evidence that Jones will be banned. "All I hear are rumors and gossip," said Humphrey last week. "I don't deal in rumors and gossip.'"
Well, it's a lot more than rumor and gossip. It's the initials "M.J." in a training diary supervised by BALCO founder Victor Conte (which Jones and her lawyers deny is Marion) and released to the media last spring. It's two newspapers reporting that Jones's ex-husband C.J. Hunter, told federal investigators that Jones used banned substances in Sydney. But Humphrey is in a tough position. Gail Devers had the best suggestion earlier this week, when she said, "It comes down to the athlete."
2) Contrary to what I wrote two weeks ago -- that Jones was Humphrey's best option for the fourth spot on the relay --- there is a better, safer option: 200-meter sliver medalist Allyson Felix. (For those wondering why Angela Williams is on the relay team after finishing only seventh at the U.S. Olympic Trials, it's because she's the only world-class starter in the U.S., and you need an explosive starter on the front leg of the 4X100).
My thinking two weeks ago on Felix was that she hadn't run the 100 meters at the U.S. Trials, and therefore didn't belong on the relay. Also, at 18, she was too young and inexperienced to run in a pressurized event like the Olympic finals. I was wrong. On Wednesday night Felix ran like a 30-year-old veteran in taking the 200 silver. As instructed by her coach, Pat Connolly, she got a safe, clean start and didn't panic when Jamaica's Veronica Campbell got out in front of her. Felix worked the turn and ran a brilliant straightaway to 22.18 seconds to reclaim the World junior record that wasn't given to her for running 22.11 last year in Mexico City. (The meet didn't have proper drug testing, therefore records weren't recognized).
After the race Connolly said that she had asked Humphrey to consider Felix for the 4X100, but that she had heard nothing from the coach. In fact, Humphrey had made her decision without consulting Connolly or Felix.
Here is what Felix said to the media: "Allyson could run any leg but leadoff. They say she doesn't have relay experience, but this spring she ran relays at Penn, Modesto, Texas and Mt. Sac."
In Munich, Connolly said, Felix ran with the USA 'B' relay against the USA 'A' team.
"She ran against Marion on the second leg," said Connolly. "Marion got the stick in front and they were even at the end of the leg."
That sounds about right. In Sacramento at the U.S. Trials, Jones dropped out of the 200 meters after one abysmal round. Felix won the race. That's not a 100, but I'm willing to bet that Felix is fitter and faster than Jones at the 100 right now. The second leg, down the backstretch, is typically the longest leg of the four-by-one and perfect for a fit, 200-meter runner. And she's definitely a safer choice.
Of course, once Jones steps on the track Thursday night in the semis, it's too late. Remember: Jerome Young didn't run the final, either.