In the end, Marion Jones didn't need a longer jump. She needed shorter feet.
She needed those little cashew toes grandmothers have. She needed a girdle shoe.
Because she had the best jump of the night Friday, flew farther than any of her competition at Olympic Stadium. She just took a couple extra inches of track with her, that's all, took one too many small steps for a medal that negated one giant leap for medalkind.
Jones finished third in the women's long jump at the 2000 Olympics Friday, the third of her predicted five gold medals now bronzed for keeping. She just missed keeping her bold challenge alive when she easily cleared Heike Drechsler's gold-medal distance on her last attempt. But she fouled on that jump by stepping over the take-off stripe, just as she had on three more of her six attempts in the event.
With the two legal jumps she did make, she was closer than the final measurements show. And they show her finishing only .07 meters behind Drechsler and tying for second but getting third in a tie-breaker. The tape said she wasn't too far off Friday.
And that's remarkable when you consider everything going against Jones in this competition. No, not that 270-pound dumbell she's been carrying around Sydney the last few days. C.J. Hunter couldn't hold his wife back at these Games any more than gravity has been able to.
Jones' real challenge coming into this competition is that, well, she's not a long jumper. Really, she's not. She runs real fast and goes real far when she competes in the event, but it's not a specialty of hers, not something she practices more than three times a week.
She was actually doing side work last night, moonlighting from the sprints and relays were she runs the shop. The long jump was just a little something to keep her interested in the Olympics when she wasn't running past everyone.
And she goes and finishes third in the biggest, deepest, most overwhelming competition the event has, which isn't too bad. Maybe she doesn't have to keep her day job.
What Jones tried at these Olympics would be like Wayne Gretzky waking up one day and deciding he was a skier. Or like Kurt Warner running from the huddle to a javelin meet. Or like Michael Jordan playing professional baseball and, you know, actually being good at it.
This was impressive stuff.
All anybody will remember now is that she didn't get the five medals she talked about for two years leading up to Sydney. They'll remember NBC's mini-series coverage of her quest fizzling out in mid-season, that the plot pretty much disappeared after the halfway point. That's what people will notice.
And the whole thing wouldn't have been such a big deal, wouldn't have been the talk of the Games for the last six months, if she hadn't gone and told everybody exactly what she planned to do here was lead Sydney in five choruses of the Star Spangled Banner.
That took guts. It wasn't particularly humble, but it sure was brave to take the attention of the world and carry it around the track and down the runway in an every event.
And it was one of the things that made these Olympics work.
Jones' chase was among the snapshots of Sydney, a cumulative swell that exceeded the wonder of her individual events, where her speed and elegance were so clear. It's one of the moments the world will remember when they remember these Games.
There'll be the Opening Ceremony people here are still tingling over two weeks later. There was Cathy Freeman running forward and pulling a nation along with her. There was the drugs, the pool and this, Jones' run at Olympic grandeur.
The Closing Ceremony Sunday could steal a little of people's memories, too, because they could end up burning down all of Australia if they're not careful. Early reports say there will be more fireworks in the air here than at every South of the Border outlet combined and that fighter planes will drop and burn fuel in midair as the torch is extinguished. Sounds like one wrong turn and every kangaroo in the Southern Hemisphere could end up barbequed.
But hopefully, we'll remember the other fires -- Freeman lighting a spark of change and Jones burning down the house in all but the event she just kind of dallies in.
She came awfully close to keeping her singular run going, of doing with athleticism and aplomb what other athletes had trained their lives to attempt. You could tell her form wasn't equal to the others in the final. When she hit the sand pit, she looked like somebody staggering home after a long night out, not like the classic long-jumper.
She just ran real fast down the lane, planted one last step and started flying -- almost far enough.
"I put it out there, I was really aggressive down the runway,'' she said. "You'll never say that Marion wasn't a champion, that she was timid. I went after it.''
And she got close, which should be remembered.
Because you don't fail to win a fifth gold medal, you simply don't succeed at making history. Especially when you're beaten by just a toe.
Morning News sports columnist Tim Guidera can be reached at 652-0352 after Oct. 8.
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