Past midnight on Sunday, Marion Jones bounded into her hotel lobby from the warm Sevillian night, flush with her second 100-meter world championship. A friend rose from a chair to congratulate her, but before they could embrace, Jones pulled back, dropped her backpack to the tiled floor and lit the room with a glittering smile. "Did you see C.J.? Did you see him?" she fairly squealed. Her hands were outstretched as if she held something precious.
In the world of track and field, Jones's success in sprinting is a given. Her 100 win through the blistering, still air of Seville's Estadio Olimpico wasn't merely expected; it was presumed. The same can be said for the triumph of Maurice Greene, who won his second 100-meter world tide 15 minutes after Jones got her number 2 and narrowly missed breaking his own world record. But C.J. Hunter, Jones's husband since last Oct. 3, isn't a given in his event. It was his final-throw, personal-best, epiphany-in-the-circle victory in last Saturday night's shot put that set the emotional stage for the seventh world track and field championships.
When Hunter stepped into the ring for his sixth and final throw, he was in second place, 13 inches behind Oliver-Sven Buder of Germany. Hunter spun twice and heaved the 16-pound metal ball. Even before it landed, he screamed. When his throw finally fell to earth just short of the 22-meter line, the 330-pound, 30-year-old Hunter launched into an operatic celebration. He pumped his fists four times, windmilled his prodigious arms thrice and then stood in the circle and howled, every inch a conquering warrior. The official distance was 71'6", 15 inches farther than he had ever thrown. When Aleksandr Bagach of Ukraine and Buder both failed to surpass Hunter's throw, he had his first major international title. After two years of rebuilding and reflected glory, he'd emerged with a tangible prize.
Rewind to April 1998. Hunter is traipsing glumly across the infield after throwing dismally at the Mount San Antonio College Relays. The previous spring Hunter had begun working with coach Brian Blutreich. Blutreich had torn Hunter's technique to its roots. Hunter, who had made the '96 Olympic team and been the bronze medalist at the '97 world championships, was suddenly a rookie again, and he wasn't having fun. Asked that afternoon in California how he had thrown, Hunter said, "Terrible." Then he paused. "It's a learning process. I know I have talent. I'm going to get this thing figured out, and when I do, people are going to pay."
Hunter then walked to the finish line area, watched Jones win the 400 meters, sat next to her as she was copiously interviewed and escorted her off the premises. It was a role he would play often in the ensuing year. But as Jones, 23, developed into one of the most transcendent performers in the world and Hunter fought to find his form, he was often perceived more as Jones's bodyguard than as a world-class performer. He was dangerously close to becoming Mr. Marion Jones.
Hunter's 1998 season best was a disheartening 68'4�". However, in the winter that followed, his quickness across the circle began to mesh with Blutreich's teaching. On April 18, 1999, back at the Mt. SAC meet, Hunter threw 70 feet for only the second time in his life. He also went over 70 in May and July, and reached Seville with three of the six longest throws in the world this year. His winning put in the finals was both a breakthrough and a confirmation of the effort—"Hard-ass work," Hunter called it—that had preceded it. Every day that Jones would go to train at North Carolina State in Raleigh, Hunter would head to the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, and they would meet back at their home in Apex, exhausted. "He deserves this," said Jones on Sunday night. "I'm so proud of him."
She can be proud of herself, too. She came to Seville to win four gold medals, a goal that was derailed on Monday when she finished third in the long jump with a leap of 22'5". Jones viewed the worlds as a high-stakes trial run for her five-gold attempt at the Sydney Olympics. Yet since she returned to track and field in the spring of 1997 after two seasons as a star point guard for North Carolina, she has had another goal. "I want to run faster than any woman has ever run," Jones said last summer. That would mean breaking the late Florence Griffith Joyner's 11-year-old record of 10.49 seconds, which has long been suspect because the wind gauge failed to register an obvious tailwind. However, Jones also said that it would be nearly as significant to run consistently in the 10.60s (FloJo's fastest noncontroversial time was 10.61) and to drag other women with her. "If we get lots of women running consistently in the 10.7s and 10.6s, that would be almost as big as breaking 10.49," Jones said.
Jones won last Sunday's final in 10.70, drilling her start and pulling away. She has broken 10.80 12 times, eight more times than any other woman. In the final she succeeded in bringing the best out in her opponents: For the first time ever in a single race, six women runners broke 11 seconds.
Greene, too, elevated his competition, particularly Bruny Surin of Canada. In the 100 final, Greene stumbled out of the blocks and trailed Surin for more than 50 meters before overhauling him at the tape. Surin finished in a personal-best 9.84 seconds. Greene crossed the line in 9.80, just off the record of 9.79 he set in Athens on June 16. Two years after his breakout world 100 title, also in Athens, Greene showed in Seville that he has lost none of his spirit—"He woke me up at seven o'clock this morning and told me he was ready to run now," said teammate Larry Wade after the 100 final—and that he has added maturity to match his status as the fastest man in history. In last Saturday's quarterfinal, in which a younger Greene might have scorched a fast time for no reason, he moved his starting blocks back several inches to delay his start and keep his time a relatively slow (by his standards) 9-91, saving his best for Sunday. In the final he didn't panic when Surin moved in front. "Very few sprinters in the world stay calm in that position," said Greene's training partner, two-time Olympic medalist Ato Boldon, who is injured and didn't run. "I know my top end," said Greene late on Sunday night. "I knew I was fine."
More than fine. Nearly perfect in the face of high expectations and heavily favored to add the 200 and 4x100 relay in his quest for three golds in Seville. "No problem," said Greene's manager, Emanuel Hudson. "Maurice was born ready for greatness. He's just waiting for everybody else to catch up."