Marion Jones makes successful return in New York

Jones makes successful return in New York
Saturday 7 February 2004

New York, USA – Marion Jones made a winning return to competition after her spell of maternity leave, marking her first race since the 2002 World Cup with a 7.21 second run to take the women’s 60m dash at the Verizon Millrose Games last night (6 Feb).

Other highlights included exceptional performances from Shot putter Christian Cantwell, and hurdling legends Gail Devers and Allen Johnson, who all improved their world season leads.

Good start eludes a satisfied Jones

Marion Jones fulfilled every expectation for a grand finale at the 97th edition of this meeting, as she posted the fastest time in America over the 60m dash this season, 7.21, in one of the closest races of the evening. In the keenly contested competition, Marion recovered from a sluggish start, maintaining her composure to prevail over a quality fielded by 0.03 seconds. Angela Daigle (7.24) and Inger Miller (7.27) joined Marion on the podium.

”Once I was able to get up and start running in the race, I felt comfortable,"confirmed Jones. “Once again, the start seems to elude me, so it’s back to the drawing board. It’s one of those gutsy performances.”

“The girls ran great. It was not a great start for me, but I was able to get my first win of the 2004 season, so I’m happy with that. I feel pleased with the way things are going in practice. The whole comeback thing, and there were some nerves – I just wanted to start running and be done with all the hoopla.”

It was a bumper night of success for the meet organisers, for the 14,154 spectators who occupied the stands of Madison Square Garden, represented a 70% improvement on last year’s 8,830 attendance, and there was plenty of great action to entertain them in the wait for Jones’ return which was the final event of the programme.

Devers and Johnson in surpreme form

Gail Devers looked every bit as smooth and confident as she did in Boston a week ago while winning the 60 m Hurdles in a new meet record in 7.76, so improving on her previous world season’s lead (7.85). The race win was never really in contention, but this did not stop Gail’s from analyzing hew own performance critically.

“It was a sloppy race. I felt wild. I hit a hurdle. But I’m harder on myself than anybody else has been and will be. I ran faster than I’ve run this year so far.”

Canada’s World outdoor champion Perdita Felicien of Canada was second in 7.94.

In the men’s sprint Hurdles, the favourite, reigning World indoor champion and 4-time Outdoor World gold medallist Allen Johnson stuttered on the first few steps, then regained his composure and took over the race. Not to be outdone by Devers, Johnson corrected his form enough also to clock a new meet record of 7.43 and substantially improve his own World leading time (7.55), beating Ladji Docoure of France who finished a good second (7.55).

“It was quick. It’s my first big race of the year so I didn’t know exactly what to expect," commented Johnson. “To be honest, I just went out there and ran as fast as I could. It felt good, I felt light on my feet, so I’m extremely happy with my performance.”

“Every time I see Gail run, that inspires me. She’s done it as long as she ahs on a high level. I was expecting it, but I’m not surprised. I ran some races last week in Chapel Hill, and I ran 7.55. So I knew I would run at least that fast.”

In the men’s flat 60m sprint, Asafa Powell of Jamaica after his own shaky start used the power of his large frame down the stretch to upset World outdoor 200m champion John Capel, 6.56 to 6.65. Afterwards, Powell informed all in attendance – in a somewhat reserved manner – that he “had come to the meet with an intent of running a time of 6.50”. This could be a reasonable target for World Indoors, if the Jamaican prodigy wants to dominate in Budapest in March like he did in New York City last night.

Cantwell continues in the 21m groove

Christian Cantwell continued his remarkable early season form in the men’s Shot , World leader prior to the competition with 21.03m (the only man so far over 21m this year), he stepped into the circle which is positioned in the centre of the arena for his last throw and with a burst of an ovation from the crowd sent his shot to 21.28, the new World standard this season. Disappointingly, World and Olympic silver medallist Adam Nelson (19.81, third) never came close to matching Cantwell’s winning effort.

“I saw the big crowd and just got fired up and just went after it,"said Cantwell. "I’m glad I had an opportunity to come to Madison Square Garden. Both times I’ve come to New York I’ve thrown personal bests (2002 USA Indoors being his previous competition). I wouldn’t say I’m the number one guy to beat – Adam Nelson is still the guy to beat, he’s the Olympic silver medallist.”

The invitational part of the programme had opened up with the women’s 500 yard race. Jearl Miles-Clark led from the gun – with challengers in close pursuit – before opening up a gap at the gun (that replaces the traditional bell at Millrose) to cruise to a 1:03.68 victory, her 8th at the Millrose. Sandie Richards (1:04.51) and Demetria Washington (1:05.47) were a distant second and third. “My training has been going a lot better,” said Miles-Clark in a post-race interview. “I’m leaning toward the 800 meters outdoors. I made the last Olympics and it didn’t pan out like I wanted, so I have something to do there.”

Low key 800m races

Michael Stember took the early lead in the men’s 800m, followed closely by Berhanu Alemu. The Ethiopian moved ahead of the Stanford alum at the 200 m mark, and World Indoor champion David Krummenacker manoeuvred into third. The trio went through the 400 m mark (53,7) in the same order. With about a lap (145 m) to go, Stember attempted a vicious attack on Alemu, then faded considerably to allow Krummenacker ample room for a spurt of his own. Alemu, however, managed to stay ahead of Krummenacker and got to the tape first in 1:50.27 versus the American’s 1:50.38. Other competitors lagged far behind, Stember held on to third in 1:51.02.

The absence of Slovenian Brigita Langerholc thinned down the women’s 800m a bit, forcing Hazel Clark into the role of an early leader. Clark, Michelle Ballantine of Jamaica, American Hope Sanders and Sheena Gooding of Barbados separated from the pack after lap one. Ballantine and Gooding remained with Clark at the bell, with the Jamaican producing a more tenacious effort yet still failing to break Clark who prevailed in 2:05.79. Ballantine finished second in 2:06.05 and Gooding third in 2:07.60.

Tisha Waller (USA) and Germaine Mason (JAM) took the High Jump titles, with modest efforts of 1.92 and 2.23 respectively.

Stevenson and Dragila take vault wins

The men’s Pole Vault crown went to Toby Stevenson, who got the crowd to its feet in reaction to his 5.70 clearance that secured the victory.

The performance of Olympic Champion Stacy Dragila lit up the women’s event, as the former World record holder reached 4.64m unchallenged after closest competitor Jillian Schwartz, cleared 4.35 and failed three times at 4.45. Dragila also came close to clearing 4.73 on two out of three and attempts.

With only four competitors entered in the men’s 600 yards, 2003 World 400 m Hurdles silver medallist Joey Woody seemed to have a comfortable road to victory. Freddy Sharpe challenged early, but, deterred by Woody’s combination of a sharp elbow and persevering speed, reconciled. However, the race was not entirely without excitement, as James Carter found it in himself to challenge late. It was a little too late, though, as the crowd’s uproar brought Woody down the homestretch to deny Carter by 0.17 sec, 1:11.44 vs. Woody’s winning 1:11.27.

Things got reshuffled dramatically in the women’s 1500m race, as Russia’s Lyubov Kremleva, who was leading a stretched-out field at 400 m, dropped back, allowing Jen Toomey (USA), Meskerem Legesse (ETH) and Carmen Douma (CAN) to break away clearly. Douma stayed patient, kicked on the final backstretch, opened up a gap by the curve and cruised to a 4:16.78 victory. “I tried tio stay comfortable,” she commented after the race. “I got a little behind, but I did not panic.” Legasse (4:17.32) passed Toomey (4:17.81), whose early kick proved premature, for second.

The Wanamaker Mile, the trademark event of the meet, got the crowd involved and going, despite the lack of usual depth this year. Serbian National record holder George Milic led for over half the distance, with Brazilian Hudson de Souza right on his heels. After Milic dropped out at the 800m mark, de Souza victory appeared sealed, and he did prevail in 4:02.93 despite a vicious closing two-lap charge by James Thie (2nd in 4:04.28) of Great Britain.

Those arriving early had been treated to a whetting entree of scholastic and collegiate race medley. Notable performers of the Games’ opening were Natasha Hastings, 2003 400 m Outdoor World Youth Champion who authoritatively anchored her high school team to victory in the scholastic 4x400m relay, and the University of South Carolina men’s and women’s squads who dominated their respective 4x400 m races. Curiously, it is the USC Gamecocks that Natasha Hastings will join for a collegiate career after completing her secondary education in four short months.

Denis Fedulov for the IAAF