Work in Sports
No shame in defeat for Jones, El Guerrouj
SYDNEY, Australia -- Man, the Olympic Games can be a strange and cruel place. Friday night at the Olympic Stadium, two of the best athletes in the world won medals and were treated as if they should return to their homes in disguises, for fear of public ridicule.
No question, Morocco's Hicham El Guerrouj should have won the 1,500 meters. He has been the dominant miler in the world since falling to the track during the Atlanta Games. But did he deserve to have this be the first question posed at the press conference following his second-place finish behind Kenya's Noah Ngeny? "Hicham, how will you explain to 30 million Moroccans your failure?" Good grief.
El Guerrouj didn't fail, he got caught out in front of a stuttering pace on a windy track almost 800 meters from the finish and it ate him up. He's a little less fit than he was last year, when he broke the world records in the mile and 1,500 meters. Plus he was scared to death before the race, crying in the tunnel between the warmup track and the stadium. He cried at the press conference. A silver medal is nothing to cry about.
Neither is a bronze. That's what Marion Jones won in the long jump, ending her run at a record-setting five golds. She said she was disappointed. Fine. That doesn't mean the rest of the world should be. Mrs. Jones could fly out of Sydney with four golds (depending on the relays, see below), which would match Jesse Owens, Fanny Blankers-Koen and Carl Lewis. That's history, folks.
Friday night's competition went exactly according to Marion's usual pattern: A couple of cautious, solid jumps and a bunch of tantalizing fouls. She had only two legal jumps in six tries. One prominent U.S. jumps coach predicted as much in June. Marion deserves to be second-guessed for never hiring a long-jump coach to work with Trevor Graham . Still, she's the third-best long jumper in the world.
There's a lesson in all of this. The key to the Olympic Games for medal contenders is timing. And what a bear it is to have to be the very best in the world on a particular day, in a particular race.
U.S. team still optimistic
The good news for Jones is that the U.S. women's relays are looking not half bad. Not great, but not half bad. In Friday night's semifinals, the 4x100 team of Chryste Gaines, Torri Edwards, Nanceen Perry and Passion Richardson finished second to the Bahamas in one semifinal. This was with Richardson running a terrible anchor leg. She'll be replaced by Jones and the U.S. will make a great run at the Bahamas and Jamaica in the final. Might not get there, but it will be close.
In the women's four-by-four, Jearl Miles-Clark, who had such a lousy Games in the 800, ran an opening leg of 49-flat to lead the U.S. to the fastest qualifying time. Jones will be mighty tired on Saturday night, but she'll make the U.S. faster. She better because Russia will be adding Irina Privalova and Australia will be adding Cathy Freeman. But like the 4x100, the U.S. has a shot.
As for the U.S. men, the 4x100 looks terrific after a week of bickering and the 4x400 is the class of the field. Maurice Greene anchors one, Michael Johnson the other. If either team loses, I'll eat this laptop.
Sports Illustrated senior writer Tim Layden is in Sydney covering the
Olympic track and field competition for the magazine and CNNSI.com. Check back
to read Layden's behind-the-scenes reports from Down