By Peter Martin
in Monte Carlo
UNDERNEATH THE Stade Louis II stadium here late on Saturday, two of the superstars of world athletics passed one another in a half-lit corridor. "Hey, Jonathan," called out Marion Jones, the fastest woman in the world, "how did it go?"
"Three no jumps - what an idiot!" replied Britain's triple jump world record-holder. "Don't worry, though, it's been a good night for you. We're all dropping like flies. It leaves all the more for you."
Halfway through the Golden League series of track spectaculars, where a share of a $1million (pounds 610,000) jackpot is on offer for any athletes who can go through the season undefeated, and another three potential claimants have been whittled away, to have their golden number bibs stripped off their chests ceremoniously.
Frankie Fredericks was well beaten in the 100m, where Ato Boldon won in 9.92sec; Svetlana Masterkova tumbled in the women's 1500m, outlasted in the final three strides by Gabriela Szabo; and Jonathan Edwards was eliminated from the reckoning after three no-jumps, "the first time I've fouled out in my career", he said. Yet his was not the demeanour of the man who had gambled everything and lost on the tables of Monte Carlo's casinos. Relaxed and joking as he lay on the physiotherapist's table, an ice pack strapped to his left ankle, Edwards regarded the defeat - his first in 13 competitions this year - as a relief.
"Money isn't a motivation for me, so at least I can't have that levelled at me any more," Edwards said. The former world champion was rattled by comments - including remarks made on television by Brendan Foster and Linford Christie - which he believed implied that he was putting cash before championship gold.
"It became a bit of a worry that people saw me as chasing money and that upset me," Edwards said. "It worried me as a Christian because of the teachings that the love of money is the root of all evil. In a sense, that's been taken away from me now. It feels like a release because the money is not an issue any more."
Edwards said that his ankle and heel injuries had not bothered him and that, but for a marginal foul on his third jump, he might have registered an event-winning leap of about 17.80m. "I jumped great - it was just that I was stupid to do three no-jumps," he said.
Edwards is still contracted - on appearance fees estimated to be at least $15,000 (pounds 9,000) - to the rest of the Golden League events, continuing with Zurich on Wednesday night. "I want to jump a long way in Zurich," he said. "I always thought that these last four competitions were ideal preparation for the European Championships."
None the less, what Edwards did agree was that the dual demands of championships and Golden League booty was something he would never take on again. The next time the triple jump will be on the $1m jackpot schedule will be 2000 - Olympic year. "The Golden League makes an unfair burden on some athletes. In an Olympic year, it's just not on," he said.
Of those remaining in contention for this year's jackpot, Marion Jones' 10.72sec here reinforced her sprinting superiority while there seems little chance of Bryan Bronson losing a 400m hurdles race this season and no one to challenge Hicham El Guerrouj at 1500m or Haile Gebrselassie over longer events.
Michael Johnson, having been beaten over 400m by Britain's Mark Richardson in the first meeting of the season, has no stake in the jackpot, but is back to his winning ways, even if he appears more vulnerable than in the past. On Saturday night it was the British record-holder, Iwan Thomas, who rounded into the home straight alongside the world and Olympic champion.
As he tired in the home straight Richardson brought home the stronger challenge to the Americans Johnson (43.96sec) and Tyree Washington (44.29), finishing third in 44.37 - for the second time this season missing the British record by 0.01. As Thomas said: "The record's going to be shattered and probably in the European final in Budapest."
In a meeting of outstanding performances and close competition, another Briton who went close to her best was Diane Modahl. In an 800m in which Maria Mutola's determined front-running saw her grind to a halt within sight of the finish line, the Russian champion Yelena Afanayeva snatched victory in 1min 56.63sec to 1:56.65. Modahl was dragged round in sixth place to record an impressive 1:59.77, her fastest time for five years.
n Steve Smith will captain the Great Britain men's team in the European Championships later this month, despite being unable to take part himself. The 25-year-old high jumper, who has a neck injury, replaces Roger Black. Jonathan Edwards jumps in the Golden League meeting at Monaco Allsport