One day, as Hunter worked with Jones at North Carolina State, Graham stood on the other side of the track, watching. A silver medalist on Jamaica's 4x400-meter 1988 Olympic relay team, Graham was now trying to build a coaching franchise by working with the likes of former world 400-meter champion Antonio Pettigrew and devouring manuals on technique. "Here I'm getting all this knowledge," Graham says, "and I just needed a great sprinter so I could teach it."
Looking across the track that morning, Graham was thunderstruck. "I thought, Oh, my god, Marion Jones," he says. It was as if Graham were a physics tutor and little Stephen Hawking had walked into his classroom. When Hunter called out, "Trey, what do you think?" Graham replied, "Mind if I fix something?" He made one small adjustment, then another, and Jones instantly ran faster and smoother. "It was, like, automatic results," she says. "That had never happened to me. Trevor changed little things, like the angle of my blocks or the way I carried one arm, and I improved immediately."
Pre-Graham, Jones had run a wind-aided 11.51 at the Florida Relays. Three weeks later she ran a legal 11.37 (and long-jumped 21'8"), followed in succession by a wind-aided 11.19 and 10.97. The phone started ringing with offers from meet promoters in Europe. Basketball was dead for 1997, buried beneath the sudden possibility of a cascade of gold medals and world records, and far greater earning power than the WNBA or ABL could offer.
"I don't know what she can't do," says Joyner-Kersee. "She's gifted and she's mentally tough. She can own everything from the 400 on down, plus the long jump."
Most intriguing will be her assault on Flo-Jo's records in the 100 and 200, marks viewed with reverence—and suspicion—in track and field. The suspicion stems from the near-certainty that Griffith Joyner's 10.49 in the 100 at the 1988 Olympic trials was heavily wind-aided and from the fact that all her best times were run in a one-season flash of brilliance that she never again approached. Jones is the first woman in a decade to regard Griffith Joyner's times as being within reach. "The majority of women in sprinting have acted like those records can never be broken," says Jones. "So they haven't pressed to go fast. I'm 22 years old; I'm going to get faster. Before my career is over, I will attempt to run faster than any woman has ever run and jump farther than any woman has ever jumped."
As she ascends, Jones can broaden the appeal of her sport with a smile and a sound bite. "She's like a movie star," says Hatch-ell. "Whatever mood she's in, she can turn it on for the cameras." Agent Brad Hunt says, "She has both athletic ability and charisma. That's rare in track and field. It's what sets her apart." Two of Hunt's clients, Michael Johnson and Gwen Torrence, possessed consummate athletic skills but minimal ebullience. The same was true of Carl Lewis. Jones's stage presence will translate splendidly to her other beloved sport, of which she says simply, "I'm a basketball player who has put it off for a couple of years."
This is a huge job for one woman, with anger and rebellion as her principal motivations. This spring the ice began to melt. Toler returned to North Carolina for eye surgery in April, and to her surprise, her daughter visited her every day then spent a week at her mother's Houston home in May. After the reunion Jones offered a new view of their relationship. "My mother and I love each other very much," she said. "I'd do anything for her and vice versa. If at the end of my life I can say that I was just a quarter of the woman she has been, I will be satisfied."
On one of those days they spent together in North Carolina, they took a ride in Marion's Jeep. As they rode, Marion handed her mom a check. "A big check," says Toler, whose heart sank. "Marion," she said, "I don't want your money, I just want a relationship with you." Jones stared ahead, unflinching, until tears, so rare for her, began to form in the corners of her eyes. "Two tears fell," says Toler. "Bop, bop. Just two. Then she said, 'Mom, I want you to have it.' "
A red carpet lies at Jones's feet, dotted now with tears. Perhaps soon the fastest woman alive will run not from anger at bitter coaches or lost fathers, but from the joy of speed and transcendent physical gifts. Two tears. It is a start.