Marion Jones made running fast look very, very simple here last night.
America's No. 1 female track star -and No. 1 celebrity in Sydney - absolutely smoked her competition in the 200 meters in Olympic Stadium to win the second of five gold medals she hopes to claim before 10 p.m. tomorrow.
In a run smooth by even Jones's smooth standards, she arrived at the finish line elegantly and in 21.84 seconds, her season best. She didn't threaten Florence Griffith Joyner's 1988 Olympic and world mark of 21.34. But then, nobody was even close to threatening Jones.
Australia's most famous woman track star, Cathy Freeman, also ran a season best but still finished seventh out of eight finalists. Jones won the 100 meters earlier in the week. Now it seems the 200 may be the easiest part of her quest.
Tonight she competes in the long- jump finals, an event that has been known to bedevil her. Her most successful international outing was last year in Seville, Spain, when she was third in the world championships.
After the 200-meter sprint, Jones said, "I came here with lofty goals, and it's only half over." Although she didn't quite do the math right, she correctly noted that on Friday "a lot of questions will be answered in regards to my jumping ability."
Even if she wins the long jump, she has to turn her attention to Saturday evening when she will run on both the 4x100 and 4x400 relay teams. In both races, there is a feeling that while Jones obviously is brilliant, her colleagues are decidedly less so. In fact, some experts think that these may be the weakest American relay teams in eons.
In 1896, the first modern Olympics were held and the primary mover behind the Games, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, said such competition was no place for women.
Today, approximately 40 percent of the 11,000 Olympic athletes here are women and they compete in 132 events. There are 21 more events for women than there were in Atlanta four years ago, including new disciplines of triathlon, tae kwon do, and trampoline.
And the future looks good for female participants, since Juan Antonio Samaranch, the International Olympic Committee president, says any additional sports seeking to be added to the Olympic lineup must include women's events. While women do not compete in boxing, baseball, and wrestling, they do in softball, rhythmic gymnastics, and synchronized swimming - which are not open to men.
The US has long been king of the long jump, winning the gold every year since 1964 - with the exception of 1980 when the nation boycotted the Games. And the three longest jumps in the world have all been made by Americans, including Mike Powell's leap of 29 ft., 4 in.
But that was yesterday. Today the US men are back in the pack.
The only American to make it to the finals was Dwight Phillips, who in the last two years has been second in the NCAA Indoor Championships. He was not a factor, finishing eighth. The winner was Cuba's Ivan Pedroso.
It was wistful watching the men's 200-meter finals here last night. That's because it had appeared, as the Sydney Games were approaching, that America's two sensational sprinters - Maurice Greene and Michael Johnson - would meet in this event, which would have all the trappings of a world happening involving the world's two fastest men.
Alas, both were injured in the US qualifying trials for the Olympics, so that possibility fizzled and becomes another of those maddening what-ifs in sport.
Greene ran in the 100 meters here, Johnson in the 400. Both won. As it turned out, the two Americans in the 200-meter race, Coby Miller and John Capel, finished seventh and eighth. Greece's Konstantinos Kenteris won.
In diving, China swept the synchronized swimming events with Xiong Ni taking his second gold, teaming with Xiao Hailiang in the men's 3-meter springboard. Li Na and Sang Xue won the women's 10-meter platform.
Americans David Pichler and Troy Dumais were fourth. Laura Wilkinson and Jenny Keim finished fifth.
Chris Huffins of Indianapolis led by nearly 200 points after seven events of the decathlon, but all three American women were eliminated in the qualifying round of the high jump. China's Wang Liping captured the gold.
Picture yourself inside a pinball machine. The ball is careening wildly around the board as it bounces off the bumpers and pings off the walls. That's what it's like guarding the South Korean women's basketball team.
The United States faces South Korea and its perpetual motion offense in the semifinals today, with the winner advancing to Saturday's gold-medal game. Australia plays Brazil in the other semifinal.
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