The woman who ended Marion Jones' winning streak spent nine months perfecting her start just a few hundred miles from Jones’ home in North Carolina.
“We did block starts a few times in the living room,” joked Mark Block, husband, manager and coach of Zhanna Pintusevich-Block.
Born in 1972 – the year in which compatriot Valeriy Borzov won an Olympic sprint double in Munich – Pintusevich-Block was raised by her mother, a bookkeeper, in Kiev. At 13, when she she was already faster than all the boys in her school, she began training seriously and originally wanted to run middle distances. She became Soviet junior champion and in 1991 was crowned European junior champion at both 100m and 200m.
The following year, she became European indoor champion at 60m. From then on, her progression was steady with her real breakthrough coming in 1997.
Pintusevich-Block thought she had won the 100m at the World Championships in Athens, but Marion Jones was given the verdict and used the victory as a springboard to international fame and fortune.
Although it is winner of the shorter sprint that the public remembers, the Ukrainian bounced back to win the 200m in Athens. “A lot more people will know me now,” said Pintusevich-Block. “I’m starting to believe that I really am the world champion.”
She married Mark Block in January 1999 and moved from Kiev to Johnson City, Tennessee, a city of 50,000 people.
After finishing fourth at the World Championships in Seville and fifth at the Olympic Games in Sydney, Pintusevich-Block decided to part company from her coach Valentin Bonderenko, and let her husband do the job.
“It was a challenge for both of us,” said Block. “When you have a tough day at the track, it comes back to the house. The first month we trained together, I was wondering how long it would go on, or whether I’d jump off the roof. Or maybe get thrown off the roof.”
Pintusevich-Block will next race at the IAAF Golden League Meetings in Zurich and Brussels and will then go to Australia for the Goodwill Games and IAAF Grand Prix finals. In September, she plans to return to Kiev to visit her mother and step-father, whom she supports with her track earnings.
Nick Davies for the IAAF