What a difference four years makes

ATHENS, Greece -- Four years ago, people everywhere marveled at sprint star Marion Jones' attempt to win five gold medals in one Olympic Games.

This year, Jones is trying to accomplish something perhaps even more difficult: win just one.

Having many events in which to compete can be distracting, exhausting even, but it can also dissolve the pressure of needing to perform in just one.

For two full weeks in August 2000, the world tuned in and cheered this phenomenal athlete with a heart-warming smile, and celebrated when she achieved feats every bit as wonderful as she seemed to be.

Every day she went to that stadium, something special happened, for her, for the fans, almost as if the place was built for her.

In a remarkable contrast, this Olympic fortnight has gone a full eleven days without Jones setting foot on the world's biggest athletic stage. The glimmering lights have been shining on others for days. The crowd has already roared for many.

Until Wednesday night, Jones was just a bystander. She could only watch as her titles were passed on to new faces, new darlings of track and field.

Finally, Jones got her chance to come out for qualifying in the long jump event.

In Sydney, it was considered her weak link. In Athens, it may be her only shot.

"I'm excited to have finally got into the stadium," she said after easily qualifying for the finals on her second jump of the night. "It's been a lot of days just sitting and watching on television and to finally have walked into the stadium it was a good feeling."

Make no mistake, it has been an active buildup to the Games but not in the way she wanted. Jones might not have been competing on the track, but Jones has been busy.
Between the constant queries about her place on the team and the constant accusations swirling around her teammates, herself and even her loved ones, add to that, the responsibilities of parenting a 1-year-old, and the strain has been as tiring as any interval workout.

In order to preserve herself, Jones, 28, had shut herself off from the media since the Olympic trials in Sacramento mid-July. Until Thursday night, there had been no sight or sound of Jones.

Until she walked out into the lights. Back in her element, it was hard not to stare at her, hard not to be transfixed by her every move, hard not to hope the ugliness she's accused of isn't true.

She fouled on her first jump but safely made her second of 21 feet, 11½ inches, and that was it. Her work was done. No other events to train for, just two jumps and her work was done.

"It has been a little bit difficult," she said. "I mean I want to be out on the track, it didn't work out for me this year as planned but I am fortunate that I'm able to get out there and jump. I was itching to go today and I finally got out there."

Jones has enjoyed watching her younger teammates make their mark this past week but nowhere near as much as she would have enjoyed competing with them.

For Jones, with three gold medals and two bronze from Sydney, sitting down is not an easy thing to do. And two jumps is hardly a satisfying night's work.

The toughest task she will face is having nothing else to think about. Now all of her seemingly endless energy will have to be channeled into one runway Friday night in the finals.

Luckily for Jones, it was announced she will get a brief respite from the long jump world she is confined to as she has been given a spot on the 4x100 relay team. A spot she had to campaign for, but nevertheless covets as she searches for something, anything to give her something else to focus on. Something else to pour her energy into.

"I would have loved to have been out there in five [events] again," she said. "I don't think that focusing on one this time was any easier, if anything it was probably a little more difficult."