Marion Jones was not about to let the home fans down.
Having flown back on the Concorde from a meet in Helsinki less than 24 hours earlier, and in second place with just one attempt left in the long jump, Jones came up with the longest jump of the year by an American. Jumping off the same runway on which she regularly trains, Jones's leap of 23 feet earned her a gold medal at the Pontiac Grand Prix Invitational at Paul Derr Track on the campus of North Carolina State University.
The meet, part of USA Track and Field's Golden Spike Tour, was held in conjunction with the Foot Locker Outdoor Championships, a competition for elite high school athletes from around the country.
Jones, who lives in nearby Apex, N.C., needed to jump better than 22-4 1/2 to take the lead from little-known Adrian Sawyer after she scratched three times in her previous five jumps. Jones's best jump to that point had been 22-1 3/4. A hush fell over what had been a raucous crowd around the long jump pit, a crowd that had waved signs that read "Go Marion" and a crowd that Jones herself had led in applause every time she took to the runway.
Jones leaped short of the board and landed awkwardly, suffering a mild hyperextension of her right knee that required ice treatment immediately after the competition. But Jones's goal was achieved as she snatched the gold away from Sawyer and bettered the previous American best of 22-6 1/2.
"The pressure was on, just the way I like it," Jones said. "I would much rather win it on my first jump, although I am very happy I could give the home crowd a thrill. The crowd was just awesome. To get off the plane yesterday at this time and then come out here without much time to get ready or get my legs fresh, I am quite pleased. Those big jumps really excite me."
They also excited the fans, who also saw a victory by 1996 Olympic gold medalist Allen Johnson (Lake Braddock High). Johnson won the 110-meter hurdles in 13.22 seconds to record his first victory since last September, when he suffered a pelvis injury.
Regina Jacobs won the women's 800 in 1 minute 58.55 seconds. Other winners included Jerome Young in the men's 400, Tim Harden in the men's 100, Bryan Woodward in the men's 800, Antonio Pettigrew in the men's 200 and Jearl Miles-Clark in the women's 400.
But Jones was by the far the biggest attraction. As she sat near the long jump runway after her event, ice packs on her right knee, television cameras were thrust into her face as she was mobbed by fans.
She said she felt no pain in her knee as she left the meet, and said she was ready to win again at the U.S. championships in two weeks in Eugene, Ore.
"I came down a little hard on it, but I am okay," Jones said. "I am not feeling any pain right now; I am excited about this crowd. It says a lot about this community to have this kind of turnout."