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Friday September 29, 2000

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Hunter cheers on Jones to 200-meter gold

By The Associated Press

SYDNEY, Australia - Stripped of his credential but far from an outcast, C.J. Hunter leapt from his trackside seat, cupped his hands and bellowed into the jittery silence as his wife, Marion Jones, settled into the starting blocks.

It was a cry that sounded like, ''Let's fly!'' though Hunter smiled when asked exactly what he shouted.

''It's a secret, just between Marion and me,'' he said. ''She knows what I said.''

Whatever it was, Jones did indeed fly.

The fastest woman in the world, winner of the 100-meter dash last week, Jones sprang from the blocks at the start of the 200m yesterday, bolted into the lead and leaned into the turn a good meter ahead of the field.

''C'mon, c'mon, c'mon, c'mon,'' Hunter kept shouting from his spot 50 meters from the finish line as she separated herself further from the pack.

Hunter wasn't accustomed to watching Jones from the stands. Besides being her husband, he's been her personal coach since their days together at North Carolina. He watched her last 100 meters from near the finish line and hugged her after the race in the tunnel leading to the locker room.

But that was when he still wore an athlete's credential around his neck - and before IOC and track federation officials revealed he had flunked four drug tests this summer with massive amounts of the anabolic steroid nandrolone in his urine samples.

Hunter, the shot put world champion, pulled out of the Olympics a few days before the opening ceremony, saying his surgically repaired left knee hadn't healed enough to let him compete. But he kept his athlete's badge and stayed at Jones' side, helping her prepare for one of the great challenges in Olympic history - a record five gold medals in the sprints, relays and women's long jump.

Now, with his credential gone, the 330-pound Hunter came in with a ticket, courtesy of USA Track & Field and sat five rows up from the track. He wore a blue USA Track & Field cap and sweatshirt. Before and after the race, fans flocked to him to shake his hand, pose with him for photos and ask for his autograph. Rather than acting like a man disgraced, he seemed like a hero obliging his admirers.

And Jones, as resolute a runner as ever has appeared in the games, refused to let her husband's troubles get in her way.

''To let one event in your life, as dramatic as it might be, ruin this ... no way,'' Jones would say after the race.

Asked if she feared that people would think she, too, was using drugs to boost her performance, Jones responded:

''No, I don't have that fear, because the people who know me, coach me, train me, know I'm a clean athlete.''

As Jones sped around the turn in the 200m and passed by Hunter, he was on his feet, still shouting, ''C'mon, c'mon, c'mon,'' though she couldn't possibly hear him in the wall of noise that accompanied her down the stretch. There have never been track crowds as large and as loud as those at the Olympic stadium this past week, 110,000 virtually every night, and the sound of them cheering is almost scary.

They were roaring for the Australian who had captured their hearts and won the 400m gold, Cathy Freeman, and they were roaring for Jones to break the world record, and they were roaring just for the sake of roaring on this beautiful, clear night.

Jones kept flying and won her second gold, though she couldn't break any records. Her 21.84 seconds was exactly a half-second slower than Florence Griffith-Joyner's in Seoul in 1988, but comfortably ahead of silver medalist Pauline Davis-Thompson of the Bahamas and bronze medalist Susanthika Jayasinghe of Sri Lanka.

Freeman, who had gotten off to a slow start, finished far back in seventh.

Jones grabbed an American flag and one from Belize, her mother's homeland, and ran around the track in a victory lap. Hunter moved down a few rows from his seat to wait for her to come by, and when she did they kissed a couple of times and hugged.

Just two days earlier they had sat side by side, Hunter in tears and pleading innocence, Jones giving him her support, as they responded to the drug accusations.

Now they couldn't have been happier. And the fans who snapped photos of them and patted Hunter's broad back as he returned to his seat, congratulating him on his wife's victory, seemed just as happy to forget that anything unpleasant had happened.