SYDNEY, Australia - The subject of scrutiny gone out of control, the woman looked weary and waived off the waiting media without comment. The other player in the event that has become the passion play of the 2000 Olympics was relaxed enough to pause for a minute and talk.
The first was Cathy Freeman, the second Marion Jones. The contrast during the first round of track and field's 200-meter dash spoke volumes about the burden of a nation's expectations the Australian has felt through the first 13 days of the Olympics, and the American's ability to focus on the task at hand despite the distraction of her husband being involved in the biggest scandal at these Games.
"As I've said all along," Jones said, "this was going to be the hardest day of my competition."
Jones conserved energy in the first round of the 200 this morning because she had to come back later in the day and run the second round of that race, then qualify for the long jump. The latter event is one of the two weak links in her "Drive for Five," her unprecedented quest for five gold medals that got sidetracked when C. J. Hunter was branded a drug cheater by international officials and much of the world media.
Hand in hand, Jones accompanied her husband to a dramatic news conference yesterday, in which the 330-pound man cried and blamed four positive drug tests on a contaminated nutritional supplement.
"I am here to show my complete support for my husband," said Jones, who asked the media to back off and promptly left her husband and a doctor to offer an alibi for his predicament. There was preparation to return to, as today Jones began a four-day grind that will conclude with two relays Saturday, when she figures to have anywhere from three to five gold medals.
While Jones has been the pitchwoman in a number of U.S.-based marketing campaigns, she is not the celebrity Freeman is here. The 27-year-old Aborigine has found out it's exhausting being a symbol of national reconciliation. She lit the Olympic flame Sept. 13, then fulfilled the nation's hopes and thrilled more than 110,000 at Olympic Stadium with her 400 victory Monday.
Freeman did not sleep that night, and granted countless interview requests yesterday.
Ron Rappaport's autobiography of Jones included a mother's tale of Marion performing better when angered, and Jones' drive is such that she may be motivated by media attempts to demonize her and Hunter. She did not retreat like Marie-Jose Perec, who fled the country rather than defend her Olympic 400 title against Freeman in front of a captive country.
A powerful thunderstorm rolled through town last night. A gloomy rain hung over Sydney this morning, but the clouds cleared and the first round of the women's 200 was run under the sun. Pushed by Cydonie Mothersill of the Cayman Islands, Jones couldn't conserve as much energy as she wanted and won the first heat in 22.75 seconds. Freeman was third in the third heat, in 23.11.
Jones had the sixth-fastest time among 51 women, but with a lifetime best of 21.62, the second-fastest in history, she remained the heavy favorite to win tomorrow's final. Freeman did not appear ready to lower her lifetime best, 22.25.
The 200 did not include American Inger Miller, who is resting a hamstring pull and facing questions that she withdrew because of the fear of a positive drug test. That kind of innuendo preceded Monday's news that Hunter turned in four positive drug samples for steroids this summer. In similar cases, Jamaica's Merlene Ottey and Great Britain's Linford Christie have fought the efficacy of international track and field's drug testing.
Hunter, who watched his wife compete this morning, said he will mount "a vigorous defense."
But Richard Pound, vice president of the International Olympic Committee, said, "This is the usual thing. Athletes always say, 'It's not possible,' followed by, 'There must be some mistake in the sample,' followed by, 'I must have got it from the toilet seat,' followed by, 'Here's a writ for $12 million from my lawyer.'
"It's a very classic profile."
As for the contention that Hunter's positive tests were the result of tainted iron supplements, Pound laughed and said: "He would be a very rusty person if that's all it was."
Johnnie Cochran, who successfully fought a USA Track and Field suspension of Jones seven years ago that was applied for her failure to show for a random drug test she claimed she was never notified of, said he is here as "a friend of the family."
Also on the drug front, the International Amateur Athletic Federation confirmed Romanian hammer thrower Mihaea Melinte had been suspended for a positive test, and Barry McCaffrey, the White House's anti-drug czar, called for USA Track and Field to drop its policy of confidentiality on positive drug tests.
Jones was scheduled to attempt to qualify for Friday's long jump final shortly before the final of the men's 400 hurdles. Mervo grad James Carter drew Lane 5 for that race, which was to start at 6:10 a.m. Baltimore time.
Locals on the clock
James Carter can medal in the 400-meter intermediate hurdles at 9:10 p.m. today in Sydney, which was too late to be included in today's editions. For real-time results from the Olympics, go to www.sunspot.net/sports/olympics/.