Marion Jones resurrected her summer with one giant leap Thursday night. Jones slid into the long jump pit with her longest jump in six years, a jump that stretched the imagination and lengthened possibilities. It was so good it would have won the Olympic gold medal in Sydney four years ago. It would have made the legendary Jackie Joyner-Kersee a second-place finisher in six U.S. championships.
The jump of 23 feet 4 inches drew a storm of shrieks and oohs from the crowd of about 20,000 at the U.S. Olympic trials at Alex G. Spanos Sports Complex. Jones, however, just squinted into the late-day sun. She didn't smile, or shake a fist. She put her hands on her hips.
Jones, for the first time in a long, long time, positively flew, and in so doing, nailed down what earlier this week appeared to be dwindling hopes of making this year's Olympic team. She finished first in the long jump Thursday night, earning her plane ticket to the Aug. 13-29 Summer Games in Athens five days later than just about anyone expected. In fact, the strangest part of the night was this: Jones surprised people because she performed well.
She entered this event having struggled to make Thursday's final.
She left it an Olympic gold-medal contender, if not the flat-out favorite.
After receiving her medal, her voice cracked with emotion as she made brief remarks to the crowd.
"I think I had a little bit of motivation," Jones said slowly. "I had fun out there. So many people told me: 'Marion, go out and have fun.' "
Meantime, hurdler Larry Wade, a top contender for the Olympic team in the 110 hurdles, tested positive for a banned steroid commonly found in dietary supplements and faces a two-year competition ban, according to a source with knowledge of the results. The test was administered by the world track and field governing body (IAAF).
Wade tested positive for norandrosterone, a metabolite of the steroid nandrolone, in a meet earlier this season. Wade's positive test was first reported by the Chicago Tribune on its Web site Thursday night.
Wade is a teammate in the Los Angeles-based track group HSI of Torri Edwards, who placed second in the 100 meters at the trials and who tested positive for a banned stimulant in April. She faces a possible ban from the Summer Games.
Calvin Harrison, facing a two-year ban for testing positive for a stimulant, finished fifth in the 400 final Thursday, falling short of winning an Olympic team spot. With his finish in 44.85 seconds, well behind winner Jeremy Wariner (44.37), five of the six athletes facing drug bans from the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency have been eliminated from Olympic team contention.
Only Chryste Gaines, who said she intends to run in this weekend's 200 while facing a possible lifetime ban, still has Olympic team hopes.
Three nights after failing to surpass the automatic qualifier of 21 feet, Jones exceeded 22 feet on six jumps. She did not foul once. Her best mark exceeded that of second-place finisher Grace Upshaw (22-5) by nearly a foot and was good enough for second-best in the world this year, trailing only the 23-6 achieved by Jamaica's Elva Goulbourne. And that jump, unlike Jones's effort, came at altitude.
Five days after nothing went right, Jones, who will also compete in this weekend's 200, looked like her old self, the formerly dominant sprinter who seemingly showed up to national championships merely to claim her gold medals. On Saturday, Jones finished fifth in the 100 final, historically her best event, and failed to win a spot on the Olympic team in that event.
Jones didn't even put herself into position to benefit from the possible drug ban facing Edwards, who on Monday has a hearing to determine her penalty. Should Edwards relinquish her spot on the Olympic team, fourth-place finisher Gail Devers would get it.
After Saturday's race, Jones did the uncustomary: she lost her cool. She snapped at reporters as she rushed to leave the stadium.
Thursday night, she declined to talk to the press.
Jones, dogged for the last two months by her connection to the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative (BALCO), which is at the center of a federal steroid investigation, forecast this sort of breakout earlier this spring. She hasn't long jumped competitively since the summer of 2000, having skipped the event in 2001 and 2002 and taken the 2003 season off to have a son with sprinter Tim Montgomery.
In other news, South Lakes High School alumnus Alan Webb easily qualified for the 1,500 semifinals, taking first place in a slow second heat in which the top six runners advanced. Webb, who holds the second-fastest time in the world this year in the event (3 minutes 32.73 seconds) and also has run the fastest 2004 mile, expended considerably less energy in Thursday's preliminary, leading a tight pack in a slow race with a finish in 3:47.10.
Eleanor Roosevelt High alumnus Suziann Reid advanced to the 400 final with the fourth-best time of the night (51.14). Sanya Richards led the qualifiers in 50.34.
Meantime, 15-time U.S. champion Regina Jacobs, facing a four-year ban for a positive test for steroids, unexpectedly announced her retirement Thursday, a day before the start of the 1,500 meters at the trials. Jacobs, who will turn 41 in August and improved with startling efficiency late in her career, won't face the potential disgrace of making the Olympic team only to be removed should she lose in arbitration. Nevertheless, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency will press forward with its charges against her.
USADA Director of Legal Affairs Travis T. Tygart said Wednesday the agency would not abandon a case against any athlete merely because the athlete retires or withdraws from any event.