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By Marion Jones Kate Sekules
Warner BooksCopyright © 2004 Marion Jones
All right reserved.
Chapter OneA Dream Realized
It's September 23, 2000. An early spring evening in Sydney and the biggest day of my life so far: the Olympic 100m final. I walk out of the tunnel into a Stadium Australia so vast and crammed it's like a second city within the city. I hear people screaming "Go U-S-A!" I mean everywhere, and there are countless flags, and a million flashbulbs are popping so the stands look like a mammoth diamond necklace. I'm with the other competitors making our way across the backstretch of the track and around the curve. We start jogging a little bit and running out of line, and the officials are going crazy at us for breaking from the pack, but there's really nothing they can do at this point. There's nothing any of us can do but run. This is it, finally. I get in my lane, middle lane five, my favorite, set my blocks and do a couple of pop-outs, as normal. As if this is anywhere near normal. The officials tell us it's time to strip down, so I remove my tights and t-shirt and take position behind my blocks, bouncing, focused-except for the huge moths I'm constantly batting out of my face. They seem to be attracted to the stadium floodlights like small kamikaze track fans.
As I'm in my lane, shaking out, looking around, somehow one voice detaches itself from the hundreds yelling "Hey, Marion!" and I recognize the voice. It's the U.S. Olympic point guard Dawn Staley yelling and waving at me like crazy. As a former player myself, I'm a big women's basketball fan, and I just saw the U.S. team win the other day. Now it seems Dawn is returning the favor. I always smile if I see someone I know in the crowd, and I beam a big grin to Dawn, then I laugh because it strikes me: Here I am at the 100m Olympic final, and I'm smiling like it's nothing. I love it. It brings the whole thing down to earth. Maybe it's not such a momentous experience.
I look over to my right and I'm happy to see another familiar face, my training partner Chandra Sturrup, from the Bahamas. We just look at each other and we say: Okay, let's do it now. In a few seconds, she'll be my competitor and it'll be every woman for herself. Some people believe I go around thinking I know I'm going to win, but that's not how it is at all. I'm thinking the opposite, in a way, how this day above all others, these athletes want it to be their turn; they are going to do everything in their power to beat me. It's a little bit me against the world, especially after all the press I've been getting lately, casting doubt on my ambitions. In front of reporters I'm very polite, but as soon as I get by myself in my room, it's grrrr. They think I can't do it? Just watch and see. It's nothing specific, just everything is in my system brewing, simmering in my stomach and in my head, giving me that added bit of oomph. And I've never needed that extra push more than now. When the starter says, "Take your marks," I know that this is it, this is really, really it....
In fact, I've already run three times on this track, but it felt nothing like this. Earlier this evening was the semifinal, and yesterday-the start of track and field at these Olympics-we had the first two rounds of the 100m, which are really for eliminating the athletes who run 13 seconds. Track and field is the part of the Olympics everybody waits for, but I wasn't expecting a huge turnout yesterday for those early heats. Even in world championships, big crowds don't come until the last two races-the semifinal and the final itself-and, in the U.S., we barely get a packed crowd for the finals. I didn't think the Australians would be so into it. But when I got my first glimpse of the 110,000-seat Stadium Australia yesterday morning, there, sticking right out the top, I could see the backs of people's heads and their hands waving. They were shoehorned in, stacked all the way up to the top. That's when I thought: Oh, my gosh. It's the real deal. This is really, really happening. My heart started to race. This was what I'd been waiting for all my life. When I was eight years old, I wrote on my chalkboard: I want to be an Olympic champion. And I was finally getting to make it a reality.
Now, I'm not going to say it gets monotonous, but I knew I was going to win yesterday's heats. It would have been the biggest surprise of the Games if I hadn't! Especially after the declaration I made a while back that, let's just say, has proven controversial.... It was a whole two years ago when I mentioned that I wanted to win five golds in this Olympics. It was only a casual conversation about my future plans; I didn't think it was going to be such a huge deal when I said it. I was young and really excited with where I was in my sport-even in '98, I was number one in the world. (And by the way, if I was a quarterback who said he wanted to try to throw for 400 yards and five touchdowns, I'd just be considered confident.) But suddenly people were saying: That's so cocky! How dare she! By the time I got to Sydney, I'd been on what felt like every cover of every magazine with headlines like "The Quest for Five. Can She Do It?" "Will Marion Jones Fail?" Much like those moths, the press is really in my face. More than ever, I just wanted to get to the finals. I wanted to get on the track and do what I love most, which is not necessarily talking to reporters.
Evening races are always agony for me because of the waiting. The nervous excitement, the anticipation, the butterflies are excruciating, but then again I love it, I really love it. It's not fun exactly, but it's special, like standing at the edge of a mile-high cliff staring at the most beautiful ocean-uncomfortable, but also the best place on earth. Of course, this time, my nerves are off the scale. All of today and last night, I felt like I was dancing on hot coals, I was so anxious to get to the final. Even worse, I wasn't able to focus all my attention on the main event, because I still had to get through the semifinal. I didn't get very much sleep last night; I was too busy checking the clock every five minutes. My husband, C.J. Hunter-he was my right hand, a huge support-was nervous for me too, so I don't think he was resting soundly either.
We aren't staying in the Olympic Village but in an apartment I rented 20 minutes from the stadium at Homebush Bay. We spent the evening before watching Braveheart on DVD and eating spaghetti with garlic bread that C.J. cooked (okay, and ice cream and cookies-I have a wicked sweet tooth), and I got a massage. I got up around 8 a.m. and sorted out my things. My only small superstition is I have to lay out my clothes in a certain way on the morning of a race (in order, with the outermost garments underneath, all the way to my underwear on top), just to make sure. It's not that I think I'm going to run badly if I don't do it; it's so I don't forget anything and lose focus. I'm a details person. I have to know everything that's going on around me, down to the last dot on the i. I like things done a certain way. Anyway, all the rest of that day C.J. and I watched movies and TV, read the paper, read books, checked e-mail-just found things to do until an hour before I had to leave. Then I did my ritual: I ran a bath, good and hot, with some nice scented bubbles, and I just closed the door, closed my eyes and sat there, starting to get mentally ready.
The semifinal race is at 6:30 p.m., and it isn't like yesterday's heats, when I ran hard for only 30, then 50, meters and shut it down; a semifinal is run just like a final. You're vying for lanes-the middle ones are prized and they go to the fastest-and you also want to get a good time to send a message to the others: Look at this! You'd better be ready for me in the final. It's a big deal, all right, but it's still not it. Believe it or not, I just wanted to get that one over, too.
I always get to the track about two and a half hours before a race. Here, there's a separate warm-up track next to the stadium, but I don't start warming up immediately. I sit down, check out my surroundings, get comfortable, take a deep breath, drink some water; just 10 minutes doing nothing, starting to focus, getting into the zone. Then I'm on my feet, and my coach, Trevor Graham, starts directing my warm-up. I do some jogging, some stretching, some drills, making small last-minute adjustments. After a while, Trevor looks at me and says, "Are you ready to sprint?" I examine the state of me, and no, I am not. I have a little stinger on the side of my right calf. It's a mental thing, probably; nothing's really wrong with my body, but I hop on the massage table anyway, and my guy works on my leg and gets the cramp out, gets me loose. This is the usual routine-we're doing nothing different, nothing special. Then Trevor asks me again: "Are you ready to sprint?" This time I'm ready. I put on my spikes and a voice comes over the speaker:
First call, women's hundred meters.
It's time for the semifinals. "Okay," says Trevor, "just do some run-throughs to get used to the spikes on your feet. What do you want to do?" Three years ago, in the beginning, Trevor would have to walk me through warm-ups, but I've long ago learned to read my body and I know what it needs.
"Sprint hard. Thirty meters," I say. And so I take off, once, twice, three times, working on my head angle, my body angle-the little things that mean everything. I'm feeling fine. "Okay, Trevor," I say. "I think one more and that's enough."
I've done my last warm-up sprint, my running shoes are on, and I've done my inventory: Is my uniform okay? Is everything in my bag? Spikes, stretching rope, water? Are the right numbers on my chest and my back? (I wasn't kidding about the details). Then comes the final call. It's time to make my way from the warm-up track to the check-in area. I shake hands with Trevor-it's what we've done the whole three years we've been working together when its time to part. We're not into the hugging thing. This is the last time I'll see him until after the race. Once you enter the room where they mark your name, you can't come back out. The only people in there are competitors and the judges who'll take us into the final call room, where we do our last stretches.
The Olympic Games follow the same routine as most meets, only the intensity is off the meter now. There's not a whole lot of conversation in the call room, and we have a good 40 minutes yet to wait, so it's a challenge to stay loose and focused. Everyone is vying for stretching room, and I have to improvise a jogging path. Another challenge is the bathroom. I always have to go before a race, and, this being the Olympics, I have to find an official to accompany me. (Thankfully, they stop outside the stall, which is not the case with drug tests.) At least I don't have the hassle of a full bodysuit today. The weather is windy but comfortable, and under my sweats and tights, I'm wearing long shorts. I have a problem with the usual female running bottoms-what we refer to as "booty shorts." I was a tomboy growing up anyway, so I'd never have worn those things, but who wants to run in panties in front of thousands and thousands of people? No way. That would never happen. I always see women before the race, right when they should be focusing, busy fixing, pulling, making sure everything's covered. I always thought, Hey, if booty shorts helped you run faster, the guys would be wearing them.
While we're stretching, they're doing the final roll call and then they ask, Is everybody ready? We arrange ourselves in our lane order and start toward the stadium track. One last ritual is the bag search. Like everyone, I am assigned my own official who stands right in front of me like the customs man at the airport and checks for electronic equipment-I can't have a phone to call Trevor from the track, for instance. Then I have to show him my uniform to check that my numbers aren't folded or bent, and that any logos conform to a certain size. Then he measures my spikes, because longer spikes that tear up the track would give me an advantage. And we're off.
Truthfully, I don't remember a whole lot about my 100m semifinal. Trevor wanted me to keep something back for the final, so I eased up after the start for a time of 11.01. I was all eyes on the prize in the semifirial; I just did my job.
After the race, a carrier person brings my clothes over and I dress again, but getting back to the warm-up track means battling through the entire world's sports media. They all want a quote: "So, Marion, one word about how you feel about the final...." "Marion, just give us one word ..." even though I'd asked them not to ask until after the race. So I walk by, saying, "Talk to you guys after the final, Talk to you guys after the final...." Eventually I reach the track, find Trevor and hop on the massage table. I just lie there, calming myself down. Trevor's quietly putting things in my ear: "Okay, take a deep breath; let's talk about the final. Just keep an eye on your body position. Make sure you don't pop up out of the blocks too soon...." Little things like that. And then I jog a bit, shake out for a while, do some casual sprints. And now the whole call room routine starts again.
It feels different this time, entirely different. Leaving my coach on the track is something I've never thought about before, but now I look at Trevor and I can see in his eyes that this next moment, this next race, will make or break my career. I don't know what he sees in me: intensity, yes; focus, sure. But something else, too, I think, a little-girl feeling: Am I ready? Because as many races as I've run and as confident as I may be that I'm the fastest runner out there, I've never done this. I've never been in a 100m Olympic final with the whole world watching.
There's a small gate on the warm-up track, and once I'm through it, with him on the other side, there's no looking back. Whoa. Is Trevor concerned-or am I-that I'm going to mess up out there? No. But any athlete who tells you they had no doubt before their first Olympic final is definitely lying.
The call room atmosphere is completely charged now. Yesterday in here, I caught some of the really young athletes kind of eyeing me, even imitating whatever stretch I was doing. They're not doing that today. These athletes only want to beat me. I've run against all seven of them before and I know their tendencies, even what they do while they stretch. Male athletes try to intimidate each other by talking trash and being confrontational in the warm-up area, but women play mostly non-verbal mind games. Some take up more room than they need, or accidentally-on-purpose knock your elbow, or casually bump into you. For instance, Zhanna Pintusevich-Block always emits a series of bizarre noises, this whoo whoo pumping-up thing that I guess is meant to throw your focus. She's doing it now. I keep myself to myself. I don't get in anybody's way.
Excerpted from Marion Jones by Marion Jones Kate Sekules Copyright © 2004 by Marion Jones. Excerpted by permission.
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