Something caught Marion Jones’ attention as she found a seat in a lounge at Stockholm’s Arlanda International Airport last month. There between the passengers waiting for an early morning flight to Frankfurt, Germany, was a near life-size poster of Carl Lewis sitting on a row of chairs across from Jones. As she leaned forward, Jones could see her reflection in Lewis’ shine.
It is an image that has grown increasingly clearer as the summer raced toward the World Track & Field Championships, which start competition today in Athens, Greece. Struck by Jones’ obvious parallels with Lewis, many in a sport that has lost its way in recent years can’t help seeing her as the second coming.
“I see a lot of that,” Jackie Joyner-Kersee said. “I see a lot of Carl in Marion. The comparison is only natural.”
Great actors emerge on great stages. They step out of the crowd, center stage, into the brightest spotlight, filling it up, owning it. In 1983 at the inaugural world championships, Lewis won gold medals in the 100 meters, long jump and 400-meter relay to launch himself as the most dominant performer of his generation. Over the next nine days, Jones will attempt to duplicate Lewis’ 1983 triple and begin a reign that has all the potential of being as long and glorious as King Carl’s.
“She easily could end up being the biggest star in track and field,” said Trevor Graham, Jones’ coach.
“Without rival,” L’Equipe, the French sports daily, recently wrote of Jones.
Although until recently the bulk of Jones’ running had occurred while leading the North Carolina fast break, the two-time All-ACC point guard is favored Sunday to become the first person other than Gail Devers or Gwen Torrence to win a world or Olympic women’s 100-meter final since 1991. For much of the summer Jones had more sub-11-second 100s this year than the rest of the world combined. In less than 26 hours at the U.S. Nationals in June, she recorded 1997’s three fastest 100s, the best a 10.92 clocking. Devers regained the world lead with a 10.89 victory over Jones (10.90) in the driving rain in Lausanne, Switzerland, on July 2. Two days later Jones turned the tables on Devers, 11.06 to 11.08, in Oslo, Norway.
“I’ve always thought I could be the world’s fastest woman,” she said. “In my mind, I’m the world’s fastest woman. Now I’m starting to prove it.”
Jones goes into Thursday’s long-jump qualifying as the year’s best jumper as well, producing a world-leading mark of 22 feet, 9 inches on the last jump to beat nine-time national champion Joyner-Kersee at the U.S. championships. The victory made Jones only the second woman to win both the 100 and the long jump at U.S. Nationals since 1958.
With Jones on the 400 relay Aug. 10, the United States is considered one of the biggest locks of the meet.
“I don’t know about being the next Carl Lewis,” Jones said. “It just feels good to be back in track full-time and competing at a level I expect to compete at. This is where my future is at.”
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