See How She Runs: Marion Jones & the Making of a Championby Ron Rapoport
She has been called "the next great sports superstar." She's a world-champion sprinter and a national-champion basketball player. She has been considered the next great hope for American track and field since she was fourteen. At sixteen, she made the U.S. Olympic team. Nike has created a shoe for her, Annie Leibovitz has photographed her, and the world is
She has been called "the next great sports superstar." She's a world-champion sprinter and a national-champion basketball player. She has been considered the next great hope for American track and field since she was fourteen. At sixteen, she made the U.S. Olympic team. Nike has created a shoe for her, Annie Leibovitz has photographed her, and the world is watching to see if she'll be the first person ever to win five gold medals in track at the Olympics.
Marion Jones is faster than any woman alive, but where did she come from and where is she going?
Ron Rapoport's biography of the woman the New York Times called "the most prominent track athlete on the planet" is a remarkable profile of a woman not at the end of her athletic career, but at the beginning. It's the story of a season at the highest level of sport, and the triumphs and tragedies of Jones's quest to win four gold medals at the 1999 World Championships, the gateway to the 2000 Olympics in Sydney.
Her story is also that of an American girl born into a society just beginning to make room for women on its playing fields. She played baseball, basketball. She ran. She grew tall and beautiful and strong. She led he college basketball team to a national championship. But it was running that she loved; she could run faster than anyone.
Rapoport follows Jones from meet to meet during the 1999 outdoor track season, a witness to her domination. With unprecedented access to Jones, her colleagues, family, friends and foes, Rapoport artfully presents the stories of a world-class athlete whose quest began as the dream of a little girl.
- Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
- Publication date:
- Edition description:
- 1 ED
- Product dimensions:
- 5.84(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.76(d)
Read an Excerpt
In 1983, when Marion Jones was eight years old and had graduated from T-ball to Little League, she found herself not only competing against boys, but beating them. Once, with a runner on second base, Marion hit the ball beyond the outfielders and, pigtails flying, raced around the bases so quickly she overtook the boy ahead of her by the time he had reached third.
"Don't pass him!" her mother called from the stands, and Marion slowed down and impatiently ushered the runner ahead of her, all but pushing him toward home plate. Her team nearly always won.
Marion enjoyed playing baseball, which pleased her mother; she had been looking for an outlet for her spirited daughter. Then one day, as her mother tells it, she came to bat late in a game she had dominated.
"Hit her between the eyes!" a parent of a player on the opposing team called out.
"Bean her!" another adult called, and soon a number of the spectators, grown men and women, were yelling at the pitcher to throw the ball at the girl standing at the plate with a bat in her hand.
"If this keeps up, somebody is going to prison here," Marion's stepfather, Ira Toler, told her mother. "We have to find something else for her to do."
Marion was enrolled in a gymnastics class the next week, and never played baseball in an organized league again.
On Saturday mornings, Marion's brother, Albert, would try to sneak out of the house early and alone, but he seldom made it. Marion, who was five years younger, was almost always waiting for him to go meet his friends.
Dolls? Marion never wanted one. Dresses? Girlfriends? Marion had little interest. It was Albert she cared about. Albert, his friends, and their games. All their games. Baseball, basketball, bike riding, hide-and-go-seek, every variation of tag-they were all part of the weekend routine, and Marion didn't want to miss any of it.
"I was really quite annoying," Marion said of those early-morning forays with Albert into their neighborhood in Palmdale, a high-desert community in the Antelope Valley north of Los Angeles. "He's trying to hang out with his friends and his little sister is with him. He'd say, 'Mom, does Marion have to come?' and she would say, 'Just let her tag along, she's not going to be in the way.' I was in the way, of course, but I think he got used to it after a while."
Albert got used to it when he and his friends discovered that even though Marion was playing with boys, some considerably bigger than she was, she could more than hold her own.
"Even when she was six years old," said Albert, a real estate appraiser in the Pacific Ocean community of Oxnard, "she could compete with my friends and me. She could dribble a basketball, run races with us, ride bikes with us. She could throw a baseball, and hit one. When it came to games, she didn't have any girl-like qualities. It was almost like having a brother."
As for any of Albert's friends who might grumble about playing with a girl, the point soon became moot. There was little any of them could say after Marion had won another game of 21, or another race around the block.
"Hey, my sister is beating all you guys," Albert would crow after Marion had won another game of pickle, a game in which a runner would try to avoid being tagged out by players throwing a baseball back and forth between two trees.
After a time, Marion's playtime presence among the neighborhood boys was no longer unusual. Soon, she was among the first chosen when they divided into teams, and, no matter what game was being played, Albert made sure he was a captain so he could choose his sister. "She was strong, almost as tall as most of my friends," he said, "and she never, ever quit."
Marion's greatest triumph in Palmdale came when Albert and his friends made a ballot box and conducted a neighborhood vote for their whiffle ball All-Star team. Marion, who was seven, was among those chosen.
"That was one of the most exciting moments of my short life," she said, grinning at the memory.
It was soon clear that Marion would not be able to enjoy sports, or to get better at them, unless she played against boys exclusively. She was the tallest girl in her kindergarten and first-grade classes and simply too fast and strong for the others.
"When they put her in a girls race at school, she smoked them," Albert said. "It was just no competition. When most girls are growing up, they play with other girls, and if they get into sports, that's who they compete against. With Marion, it was different. She competed against boys because she had to."
"Little girls were too soft for her," Marion's mother said. "She had to play with the boys."
But just playing with boys wasn't enough; very early, Marion discovered how much she liked beating them. She liked how it felt being on the winning team, crossing the finish line first, coming home from school or youth-group play days with medals. And if winning meant working even harder, fine. When Albert showed her how to shoot a jump shot, she stayed out on the court practicing until her mother insisted she come inside. In gymnastics class, when she saw older girls practicing back flips, cartwheels, or handstands, she asked an instructor to demonstrate and, within a month, she was doing them as well as the older girl next door, who had been practicing for years. Not long after that, she was doing them almost as well as the instructor.
Marion's capacity for learning a skill or technique, and then practicing until she had mastered it, was one she never lost, and one that never failed to impress her coaches in high school, college, and beyond.
Once, Marion asked Albert how he ran so fast, ignoring the fact that he was thirteen and she was eight. He had been copying what he saw on television, Albert told her, and soon they were both down on the ground practicing the sprinter's crouch and starting burst. Neither of them knew precisely what they were doing, of course, but they did know there was more to running than simply letting their legs fly. Marion ran from a crouch from then on.
Another quality Marion began to develop at a very young age is one she considers crucial to her athletic success. Sylvia Hatchell, her basketball coach at the University of North Carolina, calls it focus, the ability to concentrate exclusively on the job at hand, and says Marion possessed it to an extraordinary degree. Marion calls it living in the moment.
"I was never really interested in boys, but I didn't have girlfriends, either," she said. "I was always interested in whatever we were doing at the time. I remember certain moments of hide-and-go-seek. I remember certain moments of playing pickle. I remember falling when I was climbing down from the elementary school roof and scraping up my leg and lying to my mom, telling her I'd fallen off my bike. But I can't really remember one specific moment with a friend. I really can't. Not as a child."
There was something else Marion possessed at a young age, and the memory of it still amazes her mother and her brother. From the very beginning, she had an extraordinary sense of confidence.
Watching the wedding of Prince Charles and Diana Spencer on television in 1981, she was fascinated by the pomp and ceremony that attended the royal couple.
"Why do they roll out a red carpet for them?" she asked.
"They roll it out for very important people," her mother replied.
"Well, when I go places," Marion said, "why don't they roll it out for me?"
Amazing, Albert thought. She was only five years old, but already she was envisioning greatness for herself.
Soon Marion's neighborhood games gave way to more organized activities-basketball, T-ball, volleyball, soccer, gymnastics, track, ballet, tap dancing, the Brownies. Her mother and stepfather saw her passion for play and made the most of it. By the time Marion was seven, she was a veteran competitor in the 100-yard dash and the 400 at organized track meets. To Marion, these meets were little different from running around the block with Albert and his friends. The feeling of winning a race was very much like the feeling of beating her brother to the base, or outrunning a throw.
Still, there were certain things even a seasoned, supremely confident seven-year-old had to get used to. At one meet, Marion won her heat in the 400 and waited to be crowned the winner. Then it was announced she had finished third. Marion ran crying to her mother and stepfather in the stands. She had won her race, she told them as the tears ran down her face. She had done what they told her to do. Her stepfather took her down to the track and asked one of the officials to explain that winning the heat didn't mean winning the race, which was based on best overall time.
"They explained it but it didn't make me feel any better," Marion said. "I didn't get the gold that day. I'll always remember that, and I'll always remember running in these big high-top shoes. They felt like they went up to my shins and I was just running and running.
"I was always on the move, always on the go. I had to be doing something. It was such a wonderful time of my life. There were no pressures and I had my family around me. That was the best part. I had such a loving family."
Use of this excerpt from SEE HOW SHE RUNS: MARION JONES & THE MAKING OF A CHAMPION may be made only for purposes of promoting the book, with no changes, editing, or additions whatsoever, and must be accompanied by the following copyright notice:
Copyright c 2000 by Ron Rapoport. All rights reserved.
Meet the Author
Ron Rapoport is an award-winning sports columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times and the sports commentator for National Public Radio's Weekend Edition. He has also been a sports columnist for the Los Angeles Daily News, and he has written about sports for the Los Angeles Times, and the Associated Press in New York and San Francisco. He has received the Atlantic City Press Club's National Headliners Award for his sports columns.
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