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Friday, August 27, 2004
Jones finishes fifth as Russians sweep

Associated Press

ATHENS, Greece -- A foot short with the baton. Eight inches short in the sand.

Hoping to win a pair of gold medals Friday, Marion Jones was shut out instead. After finishing fifth in the long jump, a botched relay handoff ended her chances of winning even a single medal in Athens -- a disastrous finish to her tumultuous summer.

"It was an extremely disappointing performance for me. It exceeded my wildest dreams in a negative sense," Jones said. "I looked for great things this year. It didn't happen for me and it didn't happen for the team this year."

Jones was trying to do in a few hours what few elite athletes can achieve in a lifetime -- win two Olympic medals, one on the track and one on the field.

With the fastest time in the world this year, the U.S. 400-meter relay team had taken gold for granted and was aiming for a world record. But they could only watch as Jamaica won in 41.73 seconds. Russia won the silver medal in 42.27, and France got the bronze in 42.54.

Jones, running the second leg an hour after her final long jump, was close to the lead as she approached Lauryn Williams, the 100-meter silver medalist. But Williams started running her leg too soon. Jones reached once, then shouted "Wait up! Wait up!'' as she reached a second time.

Williams was left grasping at air while Jones reached desperately for her younger teammate.

Jones finally was able to give the baton to Williams on her third attempt -- nearly running into Williams. By then Williams already was out of the 20-meter handoff zone, which means automatic disqualification.

"I just couldn't get it to Laurie,'' Jones said. "At the end of the 100 I was a little out of breath.''

As the race continued without them, Jones put her arm around Williams and the two walked slowly to the end of the track. Jones clutched Williams' hand tightly as the two left the track after the race, and tears trickled down Jones' face when she was asked later about her Olympic experience.

"It was a rough one,'' she said, breaking into more tears. "I just couldn't get the baton to Lauryn, and it didn't happen today.''

She wasn't the only American to have a tough day. U.S. athletes faltered Friday in the semifinals of men's basketball and volleyball and failed to win a medal of any kind in diving for the first time in 92 years.

The women's 400-meter relay, though, was thought to be a given.

The United States had won gold in every Olympics since 1984 -- except for the 2000 Sydney Games, when handoff problems involving Jones and others resulted in a third-place finish.

Jones still won five medals in Sydney, including three golds, to become an international superstar. But she gave birth to a son 14 months ago, interrupting her training, and then came under investigation by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency. She failed to qualify for the Olympic 100 or 200 this year, leaving the long jump and relay as her only events.

She has repeatedly denied using performance-enhancing substances, but ex-husband C.J. Hunter reportedly has told federal agents Jones used banned drugs before, during and after the Sydney Games.

Jones had a chance for redemption on Friday, starting with the long jump. But she got progressively worse with each leap.

She fouled on her first attempt and then jumped 22 feet, 5 inches on her second -- which was delayed three minutes by the medal ceremony for the 50-kilometer walk.

On her third jump, Jones again had to wait. She paused for a heat of the 1,600-meter relay, which included Greece and the United States and got the crowd going. When she finally jumped, Jones took off well ahead of the line and landed 22-4 away.

Before her fourth attempt, Jones slapped her thighs and said, "Come on baby, come on.'' But she had no improvement, jumping 22-1. She fouled on her fifth jump.

The victory ceremony for the men's 200 came just as Jones was about to make her final attempt. She stood at attention during "The Star-Spangled Banner,'' occasionally shaking her legs, then walked to the end of the runway. She swung her arms three times, sped toward the pit -- and jumped 21-9.

Tatyana Lebedeva, who won a bronze in the triple jump four days earlier, led a Russian sweep of the long jump, leaping 23-2 to take the gold. Irina Simagina was second at 23-1 and Tatyana Kotova won the bronze. It was the first long jump sweep in Olympic history.

As Lebedeva and her compatriots took a victory lap, Jones walked around the track in the opposite direction -- toward the practice track, where her relay teammates awaited.

Bronwyn Thompson of Australia, who was fourth, said all the pressures on Jones seem to have changed the once-invincible champion.

"She doesn't seem to have the same aura as she used to. And she doesn't exude the same sort of confidence as she used to,'' Thompson said. "It probably has to do where her head was at because of the controversy surrounding her. I think it was very difficult for her to get her head in the right place tonight.''

On a rough day overall for Americans at the Olympics, Tim Mack was one of the exceptions. He led a 1-2 U.S. finish in the pole vault, clearing an Olympic record 19 feet, 6 inches. Toby Stevenson won the silver medal with a vault of 19-4.

In the 110-meter hurdles, Liu Xiang tied the world record and smashed the Olympic record by .04 seconds while winning in 12.91. American Terrence Trammell won silver for the second straight Olympics, finishing way behind Liu in 13.18, and defending champion Anier Garcia of Cuba took bronze in 13.20. Garcia tumbled as he crossed the finish line, doing a somersault on the track.

"This is a miracle,'' Liu said. "I'm too tired to even cry. I never ran so fast. I am very proud, not just for myself and China, but for Asia and the yellow-skinned people. To come out and be perfect, I'm shocked.''

Other winners were Osleidys Menendez of Cuba in the javelin and Xing Huina of China in the women's 10,000. Poland's Robert Korzeniowski took his third consecutive gold in the 50-kilometer walk.

In the first round of the men's 400-meter relay, Maurice Greene anchored the U.S. squad to victory in its heat in 38.02 seconds -- the second-best time in the world this year. And Friday night's squad didn't even include 100 winner Justin Gatlin, who will join the team for Saturday's final.