Star couple - a study in contrast

SACRAMENTO (CALIFORNIA), JULY 20. There they sat: Marion Jones in a long-legged, barstool-like chair, her husband C.J. Hunter several inches lower in a normal chair he had dragged onstage.

So intriguing was the sight that during the next 40 minutes no journalist in the packed room on Wednesday asked about Jones' next event at the U.S. Olympic Trials, Sunday's women's 200-metre showdown with Inger Miller.

This was, after all, the first opportunity for the media to probe the joint lives of the first couple of athletics.

For almost two years now, they have been married, yet many still search to understand the spark that brought them together.

Jones is outgoing, as quick with an answer to a reporter's question as her 100-metre speed. Hunter is more reserved, a shot putter who is seldom in the spotlight, and rarely enjoys it when he is. One of their few common denominators, it would seem, is that they are both world champions.

But that is only part of the picture, the public side, Jones said. ``C.J. is very protective, and I think all of you see that,'' she said. ``But he's also very loving and caring. And that's pretty much it. Perhaps you guys don't always see that, but when we leave the track and when we leave the public eye, he's a big teddy bear.''

``You guys might laugh, and he won't like me to say that because it's breaking down that wall of his, but he's really a nice, caring guy. He is also a guy, though, who often leaves the trash- removal duties at home to his wife, Jones said.

``Friday morning is trash day, and I usually remind C.J. on Thursday night. And when I wake up, he's gone and I usually have to take the trash out myself,'' she said to a roomful of laughter.

A communications major while an undergraduate at the University of North Carolina, Jones could answer questions forever. ``She handles all the stuff much better than I could ever do it,'' Hunter said.

``If I had my way, we would never do a press conference, we would never answer any questions, there would be no film crews. We'd go to practice, we'd go to meets and we would go home,'' he said. ``That's the way I like.''

Asked to elaborate, Hunter replied: ``the way I look at it, with any situation you have the good and the bad. And I'd rather not have any bad. And if you can't rid of the bad, I'd just as soon get rid of the whole thing.''

They know, however, that the publicity will not go away as they seek six gold medals at Sydney: Jones in the women's 100 and 200 metres, long jump and 4x100 and 4x400-metre relays, Hunter in the shot put.

Jones could become the first female to win five gold medals in athletics at a single Olympics, and even she admits to some second thoughts about all the attention she is getting. ``It's not even so much about me, it's about the fact of the five,'' the world 100-metre champion said.

``Looking back now, I tell people that perhaps if I had to do it all over again, I would have waited a little longer to tell everybody that I wanted to go for five,'' said Jones, who made the announcement in 1998.

``But I don't regret it all,'' she said. ``You guys (the media) are very resourceful, and would have put two and two or two and three... And come up with it.''

It will be her first Olympics, his second. His advice: ``It's another track in another place. Forget all of the hype and just get out there and compete like you do anywhere else.'' - Reuters

American sprint queen Marion Jones with shot putter husband C.J. Hunter.

- Reuters