Jones falls flat at Russia's party

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The Independent Online

After being crowned the queen of Sydney, Marion Jones could hardly have imagined four years ago that she would be coming to the next Olympic Games with a guarantee of competing in only one event. The long jump was the one competition in which she earned the right to represent her country, having won the US trials, and last night the 28-year-old was unable to find the form to earn herself a place on the podium.

After being crowned the queen of Sydney, Marion Jones could hardly have imagined four years ago that she would be coming to the next Olympic Games with a guarantee of competing in only one event. The long jump was the one competition in which she earned the right to represent her country, having won the US trials, and last night the 28-year-old was unable to find the form to earn herself a place on the podium.

The event was dominated by three Russians, with gold going to Tatyana Lebedeva, silver to Irina Simagina and bronze to Tatyana Kotova, all three women jumping over seven metres. Lebedeva's second jump of 7.07m sealed the victory in a high-quality competition, but in truth the event never caught fire, particularly as Simagina and Kotova were unable to match their first-round jumps.

Although Jones had last night's sprint relay final to look forward to, her fifth place confirmed how far she has fallen since Sydney, when she became the first female track and field athlete to win five medals at a single Olympics. The long jump, in which she earned bronze four years ago, was never her main strength, but her best leap here of 6.85m was nearly half a metre down on her personal best.

A banner near the long jump pit read: "Marion come back to fly, I have always been with you". However, the reception she was given on being announced to the crowd was not as clamorous as you would have expected for such a great champion, a reflection, perhaps, of the drugs controversy which has continued to dog her in recent times.

The Stars and Stripes sounded across the stadium as the competition neared a close, but it was played to honour Shawn Crawford in the medal ceremony for the men's 200m. Jones, who was waiting to make her final jump, stood to attention, but the music failed to provide sufficient inspiration. Her leap of 6.63m was her poorest of the night, with the exception of two no-jumps.

Simagina, aged 22, has emerged as a leading contender this season, but Lebedeva and Kotova came here with all the benefits of experience. Lebedeva, 28, holds the world indoor long jump title as well as the triple jump indoor and outdoor crowns. Kotova, 27, was fourth in the Sydney long jump four years ago, second in the world outdoor championships and first indoors.

Carolina Kluft, the heptathlon champion, psyched herself up into her usual frenzy but could jump no better than 6.62m. Australia's Bronwyn Thompson mounted the best challenge to the Russians, but was unable to better her fourth round leap of 6.96m.

Jade Johnson finished seventh, with the consolation of setting a personal best. The 24-year-old Briton improved her mark by seven centimetres with a jump of 6.80m, only to no-jump three times in a row before posting a final mark of 6.67m.

Johnson said after the competition: "I don't do seventh place. It has to be top five or I'm not happy, but that was probably one of the best long jump finals ever - three guys over seven metres. I gave it everything. I just hope I haven't let my coach down."

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