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For some, real Olympics ahead

Track and field starts Friday to high US hopes

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The 2000 Olympics really start tomorrow.

Indeed, for all the glories and wonders of this extravaganza that encompasses everything from judo to beach volleyball, the signature event is track and field.

There can be chatter about badminton and water polo and trampoline. There can be flirtation with gymnastics. Swimming has a serious relationship with fans. But for many enthusiasts the true and meaningful love affair that lasts forever is with track and field. And for them from tomorrow until the men's marathon on the final day, Oct. 1, the real Olympics unfold.

That's especially true of millions of Americans, for understandable reasons: The United States is by far the most successful and dominant competitor in Olympic track and field history, winning 287 gold medals. The runner-up is the Soviet Union, with 69. Overall, the US has won 668 medals of all hues to 204 for the Soviets (and later Russia).

As track-and-field athletes prepare to strut their stuff, the US may be on the brink of hauling off another mother lode.

Marion Jones will soon begin her assault on her self-set goal: to win five gold medals. Her events are the 100 and 200 meters, the 4x100 and 4x400 relays, and the long jump. Jones's determination seems in place - "I don't handle failure very well," she says.

But events beyond her control could conspire against her. An obvious peril is present in the relays, where a single bobble passing the baton between runners - not necessarily involving Jones - could torpedo her plans. Or one of her teammates could have a slow-feet day.

Beyond this, experts remain concerned by her lack of solid technique and consistency in the long jump. Optimists reply that she only will need one good leap and that she clearly has the athletic talent to do it. Qualifying heats in the 100 meters start tomorrow, with the finals Saturday. The buzz is that Jones should cruise in both the 100 and 200 meters. Yet, there is always room for a slip up. No American woman has ever won five golds in a single Olympics.


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