A foot short with the baton. Eight inches short in the sand.
Hoping to win a pair of gold medals Friday, Marion Jones was shut out instead. After finishing fifth in the long jump, a botched relay handoff ended her chances of winning even a single medal in Athens — a disastrous finish to her tumultuous summer.
“It was an extremely disappointing performance for me. It exceeded my wildest dreams in a negative sense,” Jones said. “I looked for great things this year. It didn’t happen for me and it didn’t happen for the team this year.”
Jones was trying to do in a few hours what few elite athletes can achieve in a lifetime — win two Olympic medals, one on the track and one on the field.
With the fastest time in the world this year, the U.S. 400-meter relay team had taken gold for granted and was aiming for a world record. But they could only watch as Jamaica won in 41.73 seconds. Russia won the silver medal in 42.27, and France got the bronze in 42.54.
Jones, running the second leg an hour after her final long jump, was close to the lead as she approached Lauryn Williams, the 100-meter silver medalist. But Williams started running her leg too soon. Jones reached once, then shouted “Wait up! Wait up!” as she reached a second time.
Williams was left grasping at air while Jones reached desperately for her younger teammate.
The Americans won’t be the Olympic basketball champions for the first time since 1988, beaten by an Argentine team that lacks stars but simply knows how to play together better.
Manu Ginobili scored 29 points to lead Argentina to an 89-81 victory in the semifinals Friday night, humbling the nation where the game was invented and perfected.
Bronze is now the best the Americans can do with their hastily assembled assortment of NBA stars that showed weaknesses almost from the moment it began practicing in late July, a month after its opponents.
Indeed, the Dream Team days are long gone. It’s the first time since pro players were added for the 1992 Olympics that the United States will not go home with gold.
“We fought as hard as we could,” Allen Iverson said. “We couldn’t get it done for whatever reason. They were a better team than us.”