Refusing To Run From Her Past
As she logs her last few prescriptive miles of training, Kim Jones can’t help but run and rerun in her head this race yet unrun.
It’s as close as she gets to handicapping.
The stakes and circumstances of Saturday’s U.S. Olympic women’s marathon trials in Columbia, S.C., don’t much lend themselves to oddsmaking anyway: 54 women, 26-plus miles, three available spots on our team for the Summer Games in Atlanta. So if Jones is going to entertain anyone’s probabilities, it’ll be from close to home - particularly since her daughter, Jamie, has done considerably more homework on the competition than Jones herself.
“You know,” Jamie told her mother the other day, “if only one thing goes wrong you should make the team.”
Now that’s handicapping Jones can buy: funny, realistic and, in the end, positive.
Not a bad frame of mind to be in on the eve of what she calls “probably the most important race of my life.
“It’s hard for me to say that - it’s a trials race. You don’t want to say it’s more important than the Olympics, but it probably is because it’s the only way to get there.”
And Jones hasn’t been able to get there from here before.
In 1988, she finished fifth at the U.S. trials in just her fifth marathon. She ran what was a personal best to that point - 2 hours, 32 minutes, 16 seconds - and was closing on the leaders near the end.
Four years later - coming off a season in which she was the dominant American woman marathoner - Jones chipped a bone in her foot a month before the trials and made a game try before dropping out three miles into the race.
Now she’s 37, though she concedes nothing to age except to note that the window of opportunity is beginning to close.
“I’m running just as fast as when I was 27,” she said. “But I know it’s probably the last chance I would have at medaling in the Olympics, if I’m fortunate enough to make the team.
“In four years, I could probably still make the team if all went well, but I wouldn’t have a chance at medaling.”
First, however, she must medal - that is, make the top three - in South Carolina.
It’s been five years since Jones ran her career best 2:26:40 on Boston’s fast track - still the No. 3 mark in U.S. history. After her calamitous 1992 season - she also fell victim to fever at the New York Marathon that year - she rebounded to rank No. 1 in the United States (according to Track and Field News) in 1993, No. 2 in 1994 and will probably end up second in the ‘95 rankings.
Her ‘95 season may have been her most rewarding since ‘91: a 2:31:35 run for sixth in London last April, and her trials qualifier, a 2:31:24 for second in Chicago in October.
That’s the second-fastest time among qualifiers, who had to break 2:50. Among those who did was Gayle Jacklin of Post Falls, who ran a 2:40:08. The fastest time during the qualifying period belonged to Olga Appell at 2:29:14 - but she’s questionable Saturday because of an ankle injury.
Jones, meanwhile, is injury-free and fit - short on speed work, perhaps, because she hasn’t done the racing women in warmer climes have, but ready for a borderline brutal course.
“It’s extremely difficult - maybe two miles of the 26 are flat,” she said. “It’s great for me to run this hilly course because I’m stronger than most marathoners.”
Maybe in spirit, too. Remarkably, she doesn’t merely dismiss the low points of her competitive career - disappointments at two World Championships and a health hex in her last three New Yorks.
“I’ve had some really bad experiences,” she admitted, “and I’ve been able to get through marathons - and some in decent times - with those bad experiences. I think that says a lot for my mental aspect as a racer.”
And nothing messes with the mind quite like the American method of picking its Olympic team.
It’s a one-shot deal. Third place is as good as first - except that running for third leaves no margin for error.
“People think you’re racing against other runners,” said Jones, “but we all burn our energy in different ways. I’ve run so consistently over the years, I pretty much know what to do to run fast. The only thing is, only the top three make the team, so I can’t let the third-place person get out of sight if they do go out like crazy.
“For mile one through 20, my concern is to make sure I’m in third position - and then go for the win if the situation and conditions arise.”
“Because I don’t care what anybody says,” Jones said, “if the opportunity arises, you go after it.”
It’s what her head - and heart - tell her these last few miles before Saturday.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo
MEMO: You can contact John Blanchette by voice mail at 459-5577, extension 5509.
You can contact John Blanchette by voice mail at 459-5577, extension 5509.