Wanted: Competition for Marion Jones. As track's new superstar steamrollered through a spectacular 1998, winning 35 of 36 finals (19 in the 100 meters, six in the 200, one in the 400 and nine in the long jump, in which she lost in the last meet of the season to German veteran Heike Drechsler), the sight of her winning by comical margins became commonplace. Jones threatened the 100-and 200-meter world records set by the late Florence Griffith Joyner in 1988, as well as the world long jump record of Galina Chistyakova of the Soviet Union, all without company. It is staggering to think what she could accomplish with someone pushing her.
Part of the problem is of her own making: She's too good. Part is not. Minutes before the start of the women's 400 meters at last Saturday's Mt. SAC Relays in Walnut, Calif., meet director Scott Davis lamented, "I've had the field filled three times, and people keep scratching on me. Nobody wants to run against Marion." Jones was left to run virtually unchallenged in a field of five and cruised to an easy victory in 50.79. "The goal was to run sub-50," Jones said after the race. "But I was expecting a little stronger field."
Track has long suffered from the unwillingness of its stars to compete head-to-head. British middle-distance runners Sebastian Coe and Steve Ovett ducked each other shamelessly in the late '70s and early '80s. Sprinters Carl Lewis of the U.S. and Linford Christie of Great Britain did likewise in the early '90s.
Jones's talent makes her nearly unbeatable when she's sharp. Still, it is up to other athletes to take on the challenge. U.S. sprinter Gail Devers is healthy. France's Marie-Jos� P�rec, who won the 200 and the 400 at the Atlanta Olympics, is training hard again after two years of injuries. Shame on them both if they don't seize every opportunity to face Jones.
This Season It's All Run, No Talk
A year ago training partners Ato Boldon of Trinidad and Maurice Greene of the U.S. began boasting in March of their planned assault on Donovan Bailey's 100-meter world record of 9.84 seconds, set in the Atlanta Olympics final, calling the mark "soft." Between them, they ran 16 legal sub-10s in 1998, but neither got the record. This year both will chase the 100-meter world championship at Seville in August, but there will be no talk of the record. "We're not banging our head against that wall this year," Boldon says. Well, maybe they'll bang it a little. Both plan to run the 100 at the May 6 Modesto Relays, where organizers have put up a $200,000 world-record bonus.