New generation of athletes ready at nationals
Marion Jones no longer holds the status she had in the Sydney Olympics.
CARSON, Calif. (AP) -- Marion Jones is just a bit player at the U.S. track and field championships this week and a long shot to make the national team.
The sport belongs to the young now. Jeremy Wariner, Justin Gatlin, Lauryn Williams and Allyson Felix are part of an emerging and as-yet untainted generation trying to lift track in the United States out of an ugly, drug-stained era.
"I think it's amazing with the young people coming up," said Olympic 100-meter hurdle gold medalist Joanna Hayes, at 28 a relative old-timer. "I mean, we've had some young kids who are rolling out."
USA Track and Field, the sport's governing body, takes every opportunity to shine the spotlight on the newcomers, and the young athletes seem to love the role of cavalry riding to the rescue.
"It's very great that they have painted that picture, because I believe that's what we are," said Williams, the Olympic silver medalist in the 100 meters last year. "You have to move on from the things that have happened. There's only so much dwelling we can do."
Jones has faded into the background, a shadow of the effervescent, dominant champion who won an unprecedented five track medals at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
She is entered in the 100 and 200 meters at the nationals, which begins a four-day run today at the Home Depot Center, where the top three finishers in each event qualify for the world championships Aug. 6-14 in Helsinki, Finland. Jones will not compete in the long jump, the only individual event she qualified for at the Athens Olympics.
If her season up now is any indication, Jones' chances of making the U.S. team are slim. Her fastest 100 this year, 11.28 seconds, ranks 29th on the international list. Nine U.S. women have run faster.
She has not run a 200 this year. At last year's Olympic trials, Jones withdrew from the 200, citing exhaustion, after failing to qualify for Athens in the 100.
This year, she has endured persistent suspicion of doping, even though she has vehemently denied ever using performance-enhancing drugs.
Her boyfriend, Tim Montgomery, is entered in the 100 this week while he awaits a ruling on his appeal of a proposed lifetime ban from the sport for steroid use. He was accused by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency based on evidence gathered in the criminal probe of the Bay Area Laboratory Cooperative.
Several European promoters have refused to invite Jones to meets, and with each sluggish performance, the suspicion mounts, rightly or wrongly, that her past success depended on chemical enhancement.
"It's a very unfortunate situation," Williams said. "You wouldn't wish that on anyone, so I feel really bad for her."
Eventually, the remarkable wave of young talent should overtake Jones as the big story in U.S. track and field. Former Olympian Michael Conley, head of the men's elite program for USA Track and Field, calls the current group of young sprinters perhaps the best in the history of the sport.