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Jones chases ghosts, dreams to Hengelo

27 May 2006

By Elliott Denman

Marion Jones never did get to match Fanny Blankers-Koen's four-gold medal performance on the Olympic stage.

The Californian wound up with three golds and two bronzes at the 2000 Sydney Games, just short of the quadruply golden feats of "The Flying Flying Dutchwoman" at the 1948 London Games.

But Jones -- despite her dismal performances the past two seasons, and the ongoing debate over her alleged drug involvements, hasn't given up the chase.

Jones, 30, is back in the global-athletics limelight after an eye-opening time of 11.06 in Mexico two weeks ago.

On Sunday, she steps onto the track -- most appropriately -- in the backyard of the late, great Blankers-Koen, who passed away at age 85 in 2004.

The FBK Games -- "Fanny's meet" -- has a star-studded cast on its start list, but it's Jones who promises to steal away the spotlight as the IAAF Grand Tour checks into this Eastern Netherlands city.

Win it with another fast run, and Jones will be squarely back in the global picture. But disappoint in any way -- lose the race, run it slowly -- and the cynics will be back in force, labeling Jones a struggling has-been.

Jones' high standards produced a mixed reaction to her Mexico race.

"The start was the best [I've had] in four years," she said, "but technically the race wasn't too good."

After two more weeks of hard training, she's as eager as the Hengelo fans "to see how it will work out."

Angela Williams, a four-time NCAA champion out of the University of Southern California, heads the list of threats to Jones, who herself starred at the North Carolina in track and basketball.

For the home fans, the meet provides one of the greatest of "Dutch Treats" since Blankers-Koen's own years of outrunning the world.

Two of Holland's most successful athletes since FBK herself, World champion pole vaulter Rens Blom and World silver medalist shot putter Rutger, will put their talents to the test in a major home outing for the first time since last August's IAAF World Championships in Helsinki, Finland.

In her later years of service as leader of the Dutch athletics federation, Blankers-Koen -- whose own Olympic events never extended beyond a half-lap -- was quite supportive of efforts to promote distance running on all levels.

Holland became known as a favorite destination for many of the world's leading distancemen. They knew they'd find well-organized events, conducive conditions and supportive fans.

So it will be Sunday.

The FBK meet also features a men's 10,000m race pitting Kenyans Moses Mosop and Richard Limo against Ukraine star Sergey Lebid, and a women's 5,000m featuring two-time World indoor 3,000m champion Meseret Defar of Ethiopia.

Other leading Hengelo matchups include:

South Africa's Jacques Freitag, Sweden's Stefan Holm, Russia's Andrey Sokolovski and USA's Jamie Nieto square off in the men's high jump.

Kim Collins of St. Kitts and Nevis, the shock winner of the men's 100m dash at the 2003 World Championships, will meet Nigeria's Olusoji Fashuba, recent runner-up to world record-equaling Justin Gatlin, in the 100m.

But all wasn't joy to the Hengelo organizers. For months, they'd been building their meet around world record-breaking distanceman Haile Gebreselassie of Ethiopia.

He'd been booked to take a go at the world one-hour running record of 21,101m (13.11 miles), which was set by Arturo Barrios of Mexico in 1991.

Hengelo fans were understandably eager to see the great Gebreselassie in full flight. Would he cover 50, 51 or 52 laps in the hour?

They knew this newly renovated stadium was an ideal distance-racing venue. After all, Kenenisa Bekele had set the world 5,000m record of 12:37.36 in Hengelo in 2004.

But the plot unraveled with Gebreselassie's late announcement that he'd not regained full fitness since his London Marathon race last month, and would be forced to scratch.

Organizers kept their promise to bring in Gebreselassie.

But he'll be limited to waving back to his fans and signing autographs.

Sure, but will Marion Jones be in her own kind of celebratory mood? Give or take a few hundredths of a second, Hengelo fans expect to get their answer.

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