John Mehaffey (Reuters)
20 September 2000 Sydney - Fate smiled on Marion Jones this week by removing her only serious rival from the Olympic 100 metres.
Now, poised for an assault on an unprecedented five gold medals in the track and field programme starting on Friday, Jones must only pray she is not punished for the ancient Greek vice of hubris.
Even Carl Lewis, winner of four gold medals at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, has wondered publicly if Jones was too ambitious, even arrogant, in announcing two years ago she would attempt five golds in Sydney.
"I'm not a superwoman," Jones said at her only pre-Games news conference. "I'm not invincible. But I'm at the top of my game right now.
"I'm 24 years old at my first Olympic Games and I have every intention of enjoying myself."
Jones starts her campaign with the 100 metres heats on Friday. She will be spared a confrontation with team mate Inger Miller, a high school rival and world 200 metres champion, who has withdrawn because of a hamstring injury.
Miller is confident she will be fit for the 200, another of Jones's title hopes, and also for the 4x100 metres relay which Jones will anchor.
Jones will also run one of the legs on the 4x400 relay and somehow fit in the long jump, the event in which she is expected to have most problems.
In contrast to the grace and power she displays on the track, Jones's long jump technique is rudimentary. Her speed is such, though, that if she hits the board correctly she could put the world record out of sight.
The Jones' saga forms the backdrop for the athletics, focal sport of the Olympic Games, and, if all goes to plan, the 4x400 metres relay will provide a wonderful climax on Saturday week.
"I'm going to be definitely running on adrenalin," she said.
Maurice Greene, fastest man in the world, is nobody's idea of a shrinking violet.
The world champion and record holder over 100 metres does not intend to get upstaged by anybody in any event at the Games, even Jones, and he has promised something spectacular in the 100 final on Saturday night.
The Olympic stadium will be windy and may be cold but Greene has still not discounted the possibility of breaking his own world mark of 9.79 seconds.
Like Jones, Greene is competing at his first Olympics and left no doubt on Wednesday how much he is looking forward to the 100 metres gold.
"This is the biggest stage I can be on," he said. "And I like to say the bigger the stage, the better the performance."
Whatever heroics Jones and Greene produce in the 100, the athletics programme lost possibly its best race when both Greene and Michael Johnson pulled up lame in the 200 metres at the U.S. championships.
Greene won the world title in the absence of Johnson in Seville last year. Johnson set the world record of 19.32 seconds in the 1996 Atlanta Games final.
"It's sad we are not able to give people the type of race they want to see," Greene said. "But the 200 is out of my mind."
JOHNSON IN FINAL GAMES
Johnson, competing in his third and final Games at the age of 33, will concentrate on the 400 where he hopes to sign off by breaking his own world record.
"If the weather co-operates, the opportunity may be here to break 43 seconds," Johnson said.
With the Greene-Johnson clash now a non-event, the athletics programme as a whole looks short of genuine rivalries in the main events.
The peerless Moroccan middle-distance runner Hicham El Guerrouj was denied a chance of the 1,500 gold in Atlanta when he fell just before the final lap.
If he stays on his feet this time he looks unstoppable. "I think only of the gold, never the silver," he said.
Ethiopia's Haile Gebrselassie, the greatest distance runner of all time, is equally far ahead of the rest of the field in the 10,000, although he has been suffering from an inflamed achilles tendon.
"I'm doing all right now, I'm about 75 percent okay," Gebrselassie said. "But I have a problem with power because I didn't do a lot of races."
Australians, who have been indulging in an orgy of self-congratulation following a stunning opening ceremony and consistent success in the pool, will drop everything to follow the women's 400 metres final on Monday evening.
Aborigine Cathy Freeman, who lit the torch at Friday's opening ceremony, is the world champion and favourite. But the one nagging doubt is the form of France's defending champion Marie-Jose Perec.
Perec has been famously reclusive in Sydney but if she is at her peak she can beat Freeman. A nation will hold its breath for 50 seconds on Monday.