Archive for Thursday, March 31, 2005

Official crows over talent

Marion Jones officially added to appearance list

March 31, 2005


Moments after formally adding Marion Jones, another A-list track celebrity, to the Kansas Relays, meet director Tim Weaver thumped the tub.

"Without exaggeration," Weaver said, "I can sit here today and tell you this will be the greatest collection of Olympic talent the Relays has ever seen."

He certainly has the evidence.

Wednesday, KU announced the addition of Jones, a three-time Olympic gold medalist and arguably the most famous female track athlete in the world, to the field.

Jones will run in the 4x200-meter relay along with Kansas City, Mo., native Muna Lee at 4:55 p.m. April 23 at Memorial Stadium.

Jones' appearance is part of a new phase of the Kansas Relays dubbed "The Gold Zone." It's a three-hour stretch of events April 23 when the elite athletes will compete around the same time. The high school and college finals in several high-profile events also will take place during that stretch.

"The issue becomes, what do people want?" Weaver said. "The most popular sports -- football, baseball, basketball -- are all about 2 1/2 to 3 hours in length. I'm very proud that we've come up with this idea and put together a real winner."

Along with Jones, Kansas City, Kan., native Maurice Greene will run a leg in the 4x100 relay, and Olympic champion and 16-time U.S. champion Stacy Dragila will compete in the pole vault.

Other athletes slated to compete include Olympic champions Nick Hysong, Allen Johnson and Savatheda Fynes, as well as athletes of local interest like 2004 Olympian and Kansas University graduate Charlie Gruber, Leavenworth native Melvin Lister and former KU sprinter Leo Bookman.

A total of 33 Olympians have committed to compete in the Relays, along with the strong college and high school fields that annually make the trip to Lawrence.

As for the A-list, Greene is no stranger to the Relays. He has raced several times as both a professional and a high school athlete at K.C. Schlagle High, but Jones will compete for the first time at KU.

A 1997 graduate of North Carolina, Jones won five medals at the 2000 Sydney Games, including golds in the 100, 200 and 4x400 relay. She didn't medal at the 2004 Athens Games, partly because she gave birth to her first child in 2003.

Jones also has received attention stemming from alleged ties with BALCO, a San Francisco-based laboratory in the middle of a much-publicized steroids scandal. However, Jones never has been implicated in any wrongdoing and hasn't tested positive for any performance-enhancing drugs by any governing body.

Regardless of the negative publicity, Jones still is a track icon, and Weaver said her presence alone should boost attendance at the Relays.

"I was able to spend a day with Marion in Athens," Weaver said. "People were so excited to see her on the street. I can't imagine the thrill they're going to feel when they have the chance to see her in spikes with a uniform on going around."

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