Marion Jones in action in the women's Long Jump (Getty Images) © Copyright
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Daily Olympic PREVIEW - Friday 27 August

Remember Marion Jones and her famous ‘drive for five’ – the American’s much-talked about attempt to become the most succesful female athlete at a single Olympics? Cathy Freeman aside, it was the biggest story in athletics for more than a year before the start of the Olympic Games in Sydney four years ago. Jones was seeking to win five gold medals – both sprints, both relays and the long jump.

Two golds targetted by Jones

That dream came to an end on the evening of 29 September 2000, when Jones, lying in third place in the long jump, thudded into the sand on her sixth and final attempt and turned to see the judge raise a red flag. It was her third foul in a row and meant she could only win bronze.

The following day, a bungled changeover between Torri Edwards and Nancy Perry left Jones four metres adrift of the Bahamas and behind Jamaica on the final leg of the 4x100m relay. She made up most of the ground but not enough. It was another bronze. She had five medals, but not five golds.

A lot has changed in the life of Marion Jones since those heady days in Sydney. But tomorrow night in Athens it’s just possible that she could complete the task she set herself back in 1999 and win the two Olympic golds that eluded her four years ago.

Women's Long Jump Final

Jones has changed her long jump technique radically since she returned to track and field this year after giving birth to her son in 2003. It’s been put to good effect. Not only has she looked a deal more stylish and controlled in the air than she ever did before, but she’s produced some good performances too.

Her best this year stands at 7.11, fourth in the world. And in the qualifying competition on Wednesday night she leapt 6.70 from well behind the take off board. “I think my speed has improved,” she said. “Now that I’ve qualified maybe I can get a medal.

“Competing tonight was an emotional and powerful moment. It was difficult for me to watch the competition over the last few days.”

Jones won’t be the only athlete in the final seeking some sort of redemption, however. Tatyana Lebedeva was hugely disappointed by not winning the triple jump final on Monday night. The Russian was aiming to win both horizontal jumps here but, like Jones in Sydney, couldn’t produce her best form when it mattered most. Lebedeva is the leading long jumper in the world this year and, after leaping 6.95 in qualifying, could be wiping away the tears of frustration that flooded forth after the triple jump.

Two other Russians, Irina Simigina and Tatyana Kotova, and heptathlete Carolina Kluft, could also be among the medals, as could Britain’s Jade Johnson, who sneaked into the final on her last attempt after two fouls. Three world champions, Eunice Barber, Fiona May and Niurka Montello, didn’t make it through from Wednesday’s qualifiers.

Women's 4x100m Relay Final

The Long Jump final starts at 20.05, and at 22.45 Jones will re-appear for the final of the women’s 4x100m. In the semi-finals today Jones ran the second leg for a USA quartet which blasted round the track to record 41.67, a time which only they, Russia and East Germany have ever beaten.

Worryingly for the other teams, USA were running in lane one, and without their 200m finallists Allyson Felix and Muna Lee. What’s more, they left reigning champions the Bahamas some 15 metres adrift.

Of course, Debbie Ferguson still believes the Bahamas will retain their title. At least, that’s what she’s saying. But then Veronica Campbell thinks Jamaica’s going to win. The 200m gold medallist said in her post-gold press conference that all Jamaica had to do was get the baton round. They did that in the semis, but were still beaten by Russia. World champions France were even further behind.

Bungled changes apart, this evening’s races suggest this is one gold Jones should have in the bag.

Women's 10,000m Final

Redemption seems to be the order of the day. Or it could be if Britain’s Paula Radcliffe lines up for the start of the women’s 10,000m final. Radcliffe was left emotionally and spiritually devastated after dropping out of the marathon last Sunday. She was originally entered more as a back up in case she couldn’t run the longer race, but now the 10k could offer the Briton a chance to salvage some pride from the wreckage of Sunday’s race. If she runs.

Reports suggest there was no lasting physical damage from her gruelling ordeal, save the expected dehydration, and the news from the British camp is that she has been training over the last few days. Maybe she just needs to get “back on the bike”, so to speak, but the fact that she’s still in Athens, and that her name remains on the start list, suggests she’s at least considering giving it a go.

"Paula trained twice on Thursday and she'll know better than me what kind of state she is in,” said Great Britain athletics team leader Max Jones. “It's now up to her whether she runs, but she does have the opportunity to pull out at any time before the race. I don't know what her intentions are, the decision will be her’s and no one else’s."

Sunday’s marathon was not the first time Radcliffe has been left bereft after an Olympic final. Four years ago she was beaten into fourth by three Ethiopians who hung on to her punishing pace for 24 laps then simply burned her off over the final 400. Not suprisingly, Ethiopians will be her chief adversaries again, not least Derartu Tulu, the 1992 and 2000 champion who has been Radcliffe’s nemesis so often in the past.

Now 32, she will be joined by her cousin, Ejagayou Dibaba, the older sister of World 5000m champion Tirunesh, and last year’s World silver medallist Worknesh Kidane. Other potential medallists include Sun Yingjie and Xing Huina of China, plus Sally Barsosio, the 1997 World champion, who leads a formidable Kenyan trio.

Although she’s only run the distance once in the last two years, Radcliffe actually has the best time in the world this year, 30:17.15, set in the cold and blustering winds of Gateshead at the end of June. That was remarkable enough. If she can recover from Sunday’s trauma and win a medal in the heat and humidity of Athens tomorrow, it really would be extraordinary.

If Tulu triumphs, on the other hand, she would become only the seventh woman to win three Olympic golds at an individual athletics event.

Men's 110m Hurdles Final

Allen Johnson, winner of the 1996 110m hurdles title, was also hoping to add to his gold medal collection here, but the American’s Olympic campaign came crashing down in the second round on Wednesday. In Johnson’s absence, the defending champion Anier Garcia of Cuba could be on course to repeat his success of 2000, although Xiang Liu might make history for his country by becoming the first Chinese man ever to win an Olympic track and field title. What a boost that would be for the hosts of the 2008 Games.

Maurice Wignall of Jamaica and France’s Ledji Doucoure were the semi-final winners, both looking like potential medallists and running national records, 13.17 and 13.06 respectively. Liu, who finished second, was hardly trying however.

”I didn’t give my best as I want to keep it all for the final,” he said.

Women's Javelin Final

The women’s javelin final will feature a trio of Cubans – including the world record holder Osleidys Menendez, who had the longest throw in qualifying on Wednesday. Menendez and her teammate Sonia Bisset head the world list this season. Nikola Brejchova of the Czech Republic and Tetyana Lyakhovych, who threw a national record, in qualifying will be other possible medallists.

Men's Pole Vault Final

This year’s world leader Toby Stephenson of the USA (look out for the hat), is one of the favourites for the men’s pole vault, along with his teammate Tim Mack. Both made the final safely without looking particularly strong, while Israel’s Alex Averbukh was more impressive.

Men's 50km Race Walk

Robert Korzeniowski is almost always impressive. Certainly his Olympic record is second to none. The Pole will be going for his fourth Olympic gold the men’s 50km walk, the day’s first final which starts at a sleep-depriving 7am. By the time most of Athens stirs from its morning frappes, Korzeniowski may already be locked in battle with Ecuador’s Jefferson Perez.

Qualifying competitions

Battle of a different kind will commence on the track later in the day, when three relays go through their first rounds – the men’s 4x100 and 4x400, and the women’s 4x400. Expect the usual juggles, drops, trips and DQs . . . along with some thrilling action of course.

Matthew Brown for the IAAF


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