Under stress, Jones still manages to overcome

THE BALTIMORE SUN

SYDNEY, Australia - If Marion Jones doesn't win five gold medals at the 2000 Summer Olympics, you can blame her struggles in the long jump or the problems on the various relay teams she is anchoring. But you can't blame the scandal that blew up around her this week when her husband, shot-putter C.J. Hunter, tested positive for steroids, throwing her household in turmoil and raising doubts about whether she might use drugs.

That's a lot of baggage to cart onto the track in front of 110,000 spectators and a worldwide television audience, but Jones was so obviously unperturbed in winning the gold medal in the 200 meters last night that there's really no reason even to bring up the issue anymore.

It's not going to matter.

"It wouldn't be right to let one incident in my life, as dramatic as it has been, ruin a dream that I have had for many years," Jones said after finishing a whopping four-tenths of a second ahead of her nearest challenger to win her second gold medal of the Games.

The silver medalist, Pauline Davis-Thompson of the Bahamas, wasn't the least bit surprised to see Jones perform as if nothing were different and her world hadn't turned upside down.

"An athlete has to have broad shoulders," Davis-Thompson said. "You learn how to deal with things. You learn how to persevere. Marion is a talented athlete and a strong woman. There was no doubt that she would continue to perform the same way."

Not that Jones, 25, didn't seem more subdued than she was after winning the 100 meters four days earlier. She leaped with joy as she crossed the finish line that night and couldn't stop giggling on the medal stand. This time, she didn't smile or laugh nearly as often. An amateur psychologist might deduce that, yes, something was on her mind.

Asked if she was somberly checking gold medals off her list now rather than savoring them, she said, "In a certain way, I am checking them off the list. But I'm enjoying them."

If that sounds joyless and tempered, well, can you blame her? Here's one of the questions she fielded in her post-race session with reporters: "Do you fear that your husband's problems will raise doubts about whether you're also using [performance-enhancing] drugs?"

Have a nice day.

Her answer: "I don't have that fear at all. The people who know me and support me, they know I'm a clean athlete."

If she's feeling beleaguered by the controversy, she should have taken solace in the stories of the runners who finished second and third behind her. Compared to them, Jones didn't know from hardship.

Davis-Thompson, 34, is competing in her fifth Olympics, and this was her first medal.

"It just proves that you have to keep trying and trying," she said.

The bronze medalist, Susanthika Jayasinghe of Sri Lanka, had an even greater tale of woe. She fled her country for Los Angeles last year amid condemnation from the press and public after flunking a drug test and then winning a legal battle to clear her name. She couldn't even train in Sri Lanka, she said, because government officials were hassling her.

"If you can find me a new country, do it," she said.

And Jones thinks her life is rough?

In reality, she is one of the many track athletes who have somehow been touched by a drug scandal. The timing is just bad in her case.

And given her talent and ability to focus on what matters, there was never any doubt that she'd overcome the bad timing and everything else.

"I didn't just start training this year," she said. "I have been working for this for many years. I go back to when I was younger, and I think about all the days that my mother would travel four or five hours to get me to a track meet. Or all the days that my brother would pick me for his hide-and-seek team. To let one event ruin all that it took to get me here, no way. No way."

What that focus says about the condition of her marriage, well, that's best left up to Dr. Laura and the gossips. He's in trouble, and she isn't exactly falling apart.

But such speculation is just idle blather, really, with Jones obviously concentrating much more on her three remaining events.

The rest of her life? She'll worry about that next week, it seems.

For now, she has more than enough on her hands between the long jump, her weakest event, and the 400- and 1,600-meter relays, both of which are struggling to find enough quality runners.

Jones is America's only top female sprinter, and the Bahamas had three in the 200-meter finals last night.

"We're going to give you one hell of a run, Marion," Davis-Thompson said with a smile as they sat side-by-side in front of reporters. "We're the 1999 world champions, and we're still the underdogs. But we like it that way, and it's going to make our victory that much sweeter."

Jones laughed at the good-natured challenge, which was issued with a smile.

Then she stood and hurried out of the room, taking no extra questions.

An athlete under stress.

But handling it.

Keep up with Jones

With two down and three to go, Marion Jones' quest for five gold medals continues. Here's her schedule in Eastern times (Sydney is 15 hours ahead):

4:20 a.m. today: Long jump final

4:40 a.m. tomorrow: 400 relay final

6:35 a.m. tomorrow: 1,600 relay final

Note: Jones is not required to compete in relay heats.

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