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Jones could turn career around at Beijing

20 December 2006

By Robert Falkoff

Maybe Marion Jones ought to get on a conference call with Brett Favre and Roger Clemens. A little group therapy on the perplexing subject of retirement couldn't hurt.

As the 2006 calendar year grinds to a close, three of the greatest athletes of this generation are all pondering whether to take their final bows at farewell news conferences and step away from the sporting spotlight. But for the Packers quarterback and the Astros pitcher, it's the same song with a different verse.

Favre and Clemens have been hinting at retirement for several years now, but the tired muscles and family obligations haven't yet tipped the scales and caused them to put their respective Hall of Fame right arms in mothballs.

At some point, Father Time catches up to even the best. Once that happens, retirement is forever. But since Father Time clearly hasn't tapped the shoulders of Clemens and Favre, they flirt with the notion of retirement, ultimately dismiss it and come back throwing.

Hopefully, Jones will steal a page from Favre and Clemens and keep competing until it is clearly demonstrated that she can no longer dazzle track-and-field aficionados as an elite sprinter. Why not maximize the great talent that made her a triple Olympic champion in 2000?

On your mark, Marion. Ready, set, go.

As the world's top sprinters begin to stir and lay the foundation for the 2007 season, Jones has yet to decide if she's going to make the training commitment it would take to become a story at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. At a news conference last week, Jones told Reuters she was still undecided about her athletics future.

"I'll make some decisions with my family in the next several months about what the future holds," Jones said.

Jones seemed to have her sights focused on Beijing until controversy found her at the U.S. Championships last June. A doping test for erythropoietin was positive at the championships, but she was cleared when her B sample came back negative.

Jones released a statement at the time that said she was "ecstatic," and she expressed enthusiasm about getting back on the track. But that enthusiasm has waned to a point where Jones is debating whether to hang up her track shoes. She cites being a mother to 3-year-old son Monty and family life in general as her top priorities.

No doubt, Jones has her priorities straight. Family always comes first. But if she could find a way to balance her family life and compete through the '08 Olympics with no more doping allegations or fallout from the BALCO scandal, it would be a major boost for the legacy of an athlete who thrilled the world at the Sydney Olympics with three gold and two bronze medals.

At 31, Jones has the opportunity to turn back the clock in dramatic fashion. Sports fans love comeback stories and Jones appeared to be in serious comeback mode last July when she clocked a 10.91 in the 100 meters at Rome for her fastest time in nearly four years.

As recently as May 2005, Jones said winning a gold medal at the 2008 Olympics was her ultimate goal.

Maybe she can, maybe she can't. But if she hangs it up now, a part of her may always wonder what would have happened if she had taken it on through Beijing.

Clemens always talks retirement and comes back to dominate hitters who are young enough to be his sons. Favre's will to compete always trumps those sound, sensible cases for retirement.

Maybe Jones, after careful and thoughtful consultation with her family, will march in step with the great pitcher and the great quarterback who are squeezing everything from their rare athletic talent.

Don't pull up before the finish line, Marion. Keep going hard until you can't go any longer.

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