SYDNEY, Australia - The Drive for Five stopped on a road with a couple of intriguing turns.
Marion Jones had aimed for five gold medals in track and field at a single Olympics, something that had never been achieved by a woman. History will have to wait until at least 2004, because the 24-year-old American took bronze in the long jump last night behind Heike Drechsler, an ageless wonder whose background lies in the sports machine assembled in the former East Germany.
Perhaps the best performer the event has ever seen, Drechsler was the 1988 version of Jones.
"The most positive thing I can take out of this," Jones said, "is that I can tell my grandchildren in 30 years that I competed against one of the best long-jumpers in history."
Jones had breezed to gold medals in the 100- and 200-meter dashes here. She had a chance to win two more today at Olympic Stadium in the 400 and 1,600 relays.
Some of the American sprinters who could have helped her in the relays were out with injuries. For her part, Jones' shaky form again betrayed her in the long jump. She reached 22 feet 8 1/4 inches on her third attempt, but four of her five other jumps were red-flagged for fouls.
Jones was asked if she had any regrets about erecting such a monumental goal, and including an event in which she hasn't been able to harness her speed the last two years.
"No, I don't regret entering," Jones said of the long jump. "There are a lot of women out there who would love, really love the bronze. I deserve to be in the competition. Other people may tell you otherwise. I don't regret it at all. This isn't going to make me crawl into a shell and never jump again."
The sound on Jones' challenge at Olympic Stadium was turned up when her husband, C.J. Hunter, threatened to become the story of the Games, even though he wasn't a competitor.
Earlier this week, news broke that the burly shot-putter tested positive for steroids four times this summer, and his wife couldn't have been thrown a worse distraction. Jones was asked if Hunter had kept anything from her.
"You can't keep something like that a secret," she said. "He didn't try to keep it from me."
Long before USA Track & Field was vilified for its doping policies, the first great doping story of the year was a trial of some of the sports scientists who made East Germany the world power for women's athletics a generation ago. The Berlin Wall tumbled, and so did that system, which left some women sterile and others with life-threatening illnesses.
Obviously, the 35-year-old Drechsler was not among the afflicted. She has a son, Toni, who will turn 11 in November. She may not be able to reach 24 feet anymore, but she was able to nail a jump of 22-11 1/4 on her third attempt yesterday and have it stand up for a gold medal for a unified Germany.
Italy's Fiona May reached the same distance as Jones, but took the silver on the basis of a better second mark.
Drechsler was slow to talk about the East German part of her past.
"We don't have East and West," she said. "There are still different cultures, but that is a generation problem. We have come together. We really are a team."
Drechsler was warmer to a discussion of her resume, which saw her win a world championship in 1983, when Jones was 7.
The Olympic highlight had been a gold in the long jump in 1992, but Drechsler was at the peak of her powers in 1988. She took bronze in the 100 and 200 behind Florence Griffith Joyner, who set world records that Jones will continue to chase in both events.
In the long jump, Drechsler took the silver behind Jackie Joyner-Kersee. That was the American team, remember, that international track officials this week claimed had covered up drug use by five of its athletes.
Jones' notion that she could win five gold medals here began in earnest in 1988, when she toured the world and didn't lose a sprint or a jump until the World Cup finale. Who finally stopped her? Drechsler, in the long jump.
Jones didn't care one bit for the notion that the German was the sentimental favorite. A prep phenom in Los Angeles, she guided North Carolina to an NCAA basketball title, then transformed herself back into a track and field force whose Achilles heel was the foot that kept stepping across the takeoff board.
She had laid her dream on the table for the world to see. Jones' quest made her a rich woman, the subject of several marketing campaigns that probably won't include any cameos by her husband. In light of the hassles caused by Hunter, Jones was asked if she still managed to have fun at Olympic Stadium.
"Fun is winning," Jones said. "That's what it comes down to. I'm disappointed in myself. I let myself down today."