It seems strange to record, given the aura of invincibility that Marion Jones has built since her emergence to win the world title in 1997, that this is the first season that she has gone undefeated. She confirmed it herself after winning a waterlogged 100m in 10.90 on Day 1 of the 9th IAAF World Cup in Madrid.
But, of course she has had a few problems with the long jump in the past, notably losing to Heike Drechsler in the final event of the 1998 season, at the last World Cup in Johannesburg. Then when she forsook the long jump for a couple of seasons, there was that little matter of losing the world 100 metres title to Zhanna Pintusevitch-Block last year.
"It feels good, to win every race, and finally go through a season undefeated," said Jones immediately afterwards, "We were all thrown off a little bit by the delay (due to torrential rain just after the start), and I'm not going to complain about drawing lane one, it will happen to everyone at some point, but the water was draining off into my lane, and the wet track made it a bit more challenging".
Despite Jones' clear victory and season's clean-sheet, the woman of the year has to be Ana Guevara, as much for the novelty of her own emergence this year, as for the 'perfect 10' she chalked up with her 400 m victory in 49.56 in the Estadio Comunidad de Madrid . "Ten out of ten (victories) is very good," she said when she finally came off the track after a lengthy grilling by Mexican TV, as yet unused to the novelty of having a star sprinter among all those walkers and marathoners. "I tried to go for my best time (49.16 in the Zurich Golden League), but I was a little too tired after such a long season. And also it was a little difficult having lane seven". But she made light of all that, and came home unchallenged in 49.56.
It was pretty much Ladies' Night, as far as exciting events went, and the 3000m was right up there. It was certainly the best spectacle. There have been some famous finishes in track history, with victories being stolen from underneath the elbows of presumptuously upraised arms. Those with long memories and lots of air-miles may recall John Treacy nipping Steve Ovett in a post Olympic 5000m at Crystal Palace in 1980, and Frédérique Quentin doing the same to Hassiba Boulmerka in the Mediterranean Games' 1500m in Narbonne in 1992.
But Berhane Adere gave us one of the best, and it was all the more exciting because the final straight featured three rivals - Adere, Yelena Zadorozhnaya and Gaby Szabo - who have illuminated this end of season in the middle distances. The race was uneventful until the final lap, when Spaniard Beatriz Santiago shot into the lead, and woke the crowd from its post-downpour torpor. But she was quickly relayed by Zadorozhnaya in the backstraight. Until Szabo shot past. The Russian stayed abreast with Szabo with Adere falling back. But when Szabo finally edged clear of Zadorozhnaya, Adere came with such a rush that she made up three metres in the last ten, and swept past Szabo as the Romanian made the mistake of celebrating too soon.
After his Olympic bronze, and succession of second places behind Hicham El Guerrouj, Bernard Lagat finally won a 'world' title, albeit El Guerrouj was not in Madrid. But the talking point of the race was Seneca Lassiter, who will not have won many friends on the US team by revealing afterwards that he had paced his training partner, Lagat, with a 1:50 800 metres, and then finished last. Although tiring himself, Lagat ran away from Reyes Estévez on the final lap, and recorded 3:31.20.
Jolanda Ceplak has upset a lot of people this year with her exuberant front-running (and winning), notably the Viennese crowd at the European indoors, when the Slovene got the better of local hero Steffi Graf. But, even after her Euro outdoor victory in Munich, Ceplak was no match for Maria Mutola. Ceplak managed to stay ahead until the final 50 metres, but when the Mozambican switched on the after-burners, it was all over. Mutola capped an unrivalled decade with her fourth consecutive World Cup win, in 1:58.60, since her emergent victory in Havana '92.
After the rain-delay, which has become a feature of the World Cup in Hispanic countries - Barcelona '89 and Havana '92 - the claps of thunder over the Sierra Guadarrama to the north of Madrid were supplanted by the roars of "Alber-to, Alber-to" when European champion Garcia won the final individual event of the night, the 5000m in 13.30.04. But the grandstand finale was left to the US men's 4x100m squad, who broke the World Cup record, with a hastily rearranged team - John Drummond, Jason Smoots, Kaaron Conwright and Coby Miller. Despite an appalling final changeover, they still came home in 37.95!
That kept the US men, on 61 points, within striking distance of the Africa team (65pts), which has won on the last three occasions. The European men are third on 60 points, but their women lead an even tighter struggle, with Russia on 62, and the US women on 60.
Pat Butcher for the IAAF