WHICH WAY will she go? That question means one thing to the women
trying to guard Marion Jones when she's playing point guard for the
national-champion North Carolina basketball team. It means something
else entirely to track and field fans, who have been fervently hoping
that the greatest female sprinting and jumping talent of all time
will not forsake their sport for the joys of basketball.
''Nothing before and nothing probably for a long time to come can
match Marion,'' says Doug Speck, director of the prestigious Arcadia
(Calif.) Invitational high school track meet. ''I'm not sure people
realize how lucky we've been to watch her.''
Though she is only 19, Jones, a sophomore planning to major in
journalism, has already given her fans much to admire. As a sophomore
at Thousand Oaks (Calif.) High, she was the fastest schoolgirl in the
country in the 100, 200 and 400 meters. At the 1992 U.S. Olympic
trials, at the age of 16, she earned a spot as an alternate on the
4X100 relay team, which went on to win a gold medal in Barcelona.
Since Jones would almost certainly have run in at least one of the
qualifying rounds, she, too, would have won a gold. But she chose to
stay home. ''I knew I wasn't going to get a chance to run in the
final,'' she says. ''When I get my first medal, I want to have earned
it, sweated for it.''
During her senior year, Jones tried the long jump for the first
time -- and won the state-championship meet with a jump of 22 ft. 1/2
in., just 2 1/2 in. shy of the U.S. high school record. And this came
on the heels of a basketball season in which she averaged 22.8 points
and 14.7 rebounds per game and was named California's Division I
Player of the Year.
All her life Jones has been tiring other people out. Her mother,
Marion Toler, who was 21 when she came to the U.S. from Belize,
seized upon sports only as a means of burning off little Marion's
roiling energy. Toler, a medical and legal transcriptionist who is
also taking classes at North Carolina, was devoted to education, not
athletics. When it came time for her daughter to choose a college,
Toler helped steer her to North Carolina, not just because of its
fine journalism school and its willingness to let Marion pursue two
sports, but also because of its impressive record in educating
The 5 ft. 10 in., 140-pound Jones became the Tar Heels' starting
point guard in her fourth game and was one of the biggest reasons why
North Carolina, whose preseason ranking in '94 was ninth, finished
33-2 and won the NCAA title. As a sophomore, she has only gotten
better, averaging 17.1 points a game while guiding the Tar Heels to
an 18-0 start. ''A lot of people didn't take her basketball
seriously,'' says North Carolina coach Sylvia Hatchell, who named
Jones a co-captain as a sophomore. ''She's not a track athlete
playing basketball. She's a basketball player.''
But while polishing her skills on the court, Jones has not been
able to give her track and field endeavors the attention they need.
''The last few years, I know, the track world has been
disappointed,'' Jones says. ''I was disappointed last year. But
you've got to understand, it was a long basketball season. I had 1
1/2 weeks of practice before ((track)) nationals. I'm talented, but
it takes a lot more than that.'' It should be noted that Jones was
still named All-America in four events at the national championships
and improved her best in the long jump to 22 ft. 1 3/4 in., finishing
Track fans can take heart that as the 1996 Olympics approach,
Jones sounds hungry once more. ''I'm leaning toward redshirting in
basketball,'' she says. ''That's not definite yet, but I will
definitely try out for the 1996 Olympic team.''
After that, who knows? With her kind of talent, anything's
This is an article from the Feb. 9, 1995 issue