Jones fails to jump-start flagging career at nationals
Posted: Saturday June 25, 2005 2:15AM; Updated: Monday June 27, 2005 10:13AM
Marion Jones hadn't run well in any of her five races this year before withdrawing from a 100-meter heat Friday.
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CARSON, Calif. -- Ever so briefly, Marion Jones was the queen again. She walked onto the track Friday evening, wearing black tights and a sleek red warm-up top, casting a long shadow in the dying sunlight. Twice she settled into the starting blocks placed in Lane Two for the third heat of the 100 meters at the U.S. track and field championships at the Home Depot Center. Twice she pushed away from the blocks and jogged lightly down the orange track, warming up for the race that would begin her retribution.
Even in a year when her performances have been abysmal, she moved with an air of privilege, and surely every set of eyes in the temporary stadium found her. And then she was gone. Walking past her blocks, snatching her outer clothes from a pale yellow container and off the track. Moving briskly. "Two starts and she just left,'' said a flummoxed official in the starting area. She left so unexpectedly that public address announcer Garry Hill announced Jones less than a minute after her departure. "The 2000 Olympic champion....'' Fans applauded an empty lane.
Less than an hour later, Jones' lawyer and confidante, Rich Nichols, said Jones had withdrawn from the meet with an injury to her left quadriceps and hip flexor muscle, sustained in practice one week earlier. Jones will not run in the 200 meters in Carson and thus will not participate in the IAAF World Championships in Helsinki, Finland, August 5-14. She previously won the 100-meter world championship in 1997 in Athens, and in '99 in Seville, Spain.
"She's extremely disappointed,'' Nichols said. "She was ready to run. She's been doubling up on her workouts, trying to get back. She told us she was going to take a couple of starts and see how it felt. But Marion has always said that she won't run a race if she's not 100 percent.''
It was only a preliminary heat, the third and last in a series of races where 18 of the 22 women -- including Jones -- who started would advance to the semifinals. Jones has run in two Olympic Games, three world championships and as the featured player in some of the most important track meets in the world. Yet this was to be one of the most important competitions of her life.
Accused by her ex-husband, C.J. Hunter, and former BALCO founder Victor Conte of using performance-enhancing drugs (which Jones has denied and never tested positive), Jones has run poorly in all five races she's started in 2005. The nationals were painted as the first step in her comeback. "She's going to shock people at nationals,'' said her coach, Steve Riddick. People were going to see that Jones could run fast clean.
Instead, she will try to heal and hope to run some of the big races on the European circuit later in the summer. Charley Wells, her longtime agent, said he has been talking to meet promoters, but also said Jones is not currently entered in any events.
"This is probably the best thing for her,'' said Los Angeles-based sprint coach John Smith, men's head coach for the U.S. team in Helsinki. "She needs to go home, relax and get all her s--- together. If you've been watching her all year, you knew there wasn't going to be anything good happening out here in this meet.''
Maybe it's that simple. Maybe Marion goes home, heals her injury and, at the age of 29, still the most scrutinized track and field athlete in the world, still waiting to see if the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency will someday charge her with a doping offense, still fighting to clear her name, she reclaims her career and runs fast again.
This scenario did not seem probable on Friday night in a small stadium made of steel bleachers and buffeted by incessant winds. It seemed probable that we have seen the last of Marion Jones running fast and somehow it seemed even possible that we have seen the last of her, period. Once she was a queen, and then she was a ghost, starting twice for practice, walking in the sunlight and then running far away.