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MAICEL MALONE // More precious than gold

It was an easy choice, really no choice at all. On the one hand there was a chance _ probably more than a chance _ of a medal in the 1,600-meter relay. On the other hand there was. . .

There is Jaylyn.

"I could have made the Olympic team in '92," Maicel Malone said. "I was an alternate on the relay team. I could have been on the medal stand. But a child think of it. How much more special it is. So much more definite, so much more, well, everything."

Fast forward _ very fast _ from Barcelona to Atlanta. Malone, who has lived and trained in Gainesville for most of the past four years, has a chance at more than just a relay medal as an alternate. She blew away the competition in the 400 at the Olympic trials in 50.52 seconds, this coming on the heels of the year's indoor best of 51.49 at nationals.

She said she doesn't feel cheated out of the '92 Olympics. "I figure God has a plan for all of us and this was mine. I don't think I'm four years late. I think I'm right on time."

Barcelona doesn't count

It has been a pretty good year so far for the 26-year-old Malone. "A pretty good three or four years, actually," she said.

Particularly after the one before them.

Start with 1987, with the last three of her 11 Indiana state championship victories, in the 100, 200 and 400 meters, all in record time, at North Central High in Indianapolis.

Move up to '88, to her berth as an alternate on the U.S. Olympic team (she doesn't run so much as one round; she doesn't get a medal). "I'd rather forget that Olympics," she said, "not even count being on the team until I can get a medal of my own."

At Arizona State, Malone won six NCAA titles and 11 All-American awards. At the 1990 Indoor Championships at the Hoosier Dome, Malone met James Trapp, a Clemson University football player/sprinter.

Tom Jones, Malone's Sun Devil coach (he tried in vain to recruit Trapp to ASU), introduced them. She and Trapp began dating and by August of '91 they were married.

In the 1992 indoor track season, she won a third straight NCAA championship in the 400 meters. As the outdoor season began, so did the pain. The pain of a shaky marriage. And pain in Malone's back, down her leg. Sciatica, she thought.

It was not nerve damage. It was Jaylyn. Malone was pregnant. There is irony in her missing the '92 Olympics. Trapp made the team as an alternate on the U.S. men's 400-meter relay team and went to Barcelona.

Malone, meanwhile, remained at Arizona State that summer, earning a degree in communications. "I never wished I wasn't pregnant," she said. "Not once. Not during the Games; not after. During the trials it was kind of bittersweet but not during the Games. Part of it was that I was still trying to get my degree so I never really watched much (Olympic competition). School sort of took my mind off it.

"At the time, I didn't know what a reward it was to have a child. I knew the rewards of getting a degree. It was what my parents (both of whom ran track for Tennessee A&I) drilled into me."

A learning experience

Jaylyn was born in November 1992. Not long after, Trapp, then a defensive back with the Los Angeles Raiders, and Malone were divorced.

Jones left ASU and moved to the University of Florida to become women's track coach, and Malone followed him to Gainesville in February 1993 to continue training.

Briefly, she was raising her son on her own. "I don't know how mothers do it for years," she said. "Just being a parent in a two-parent family is demanding. Then adding a job. But doing both with no one else, that's a whole other world."

Malone would be on the track the same time as Dennis Mitchell. They didn't train together, but she began to notice who was coaching him. Eventually a mutual friend introduced her to Aaron Wallace. They were married in November 1994.

"I never really thought of myself as a single mother," Malone said. "I had so much help. Aaron and I began dating when Jaylyn was so young; he had my family and Aaron's family."

"She's a very strong woman," Wallace said. "She's been through a lot, but the person she is, that's enabled her to overcome whatever obstacles she's faced."

"I'm mommy'

Wallace teaches elementary school in Gainesville and trains with Malone, and when Jones can't coach her, her husband does.

"Aaron works with Tom a lot," she said. "As far as everyone else is concerned, he's my coach. Having a "business' relationship with my husband, it gets kind of challenging. It's hard to separate the husband part from the coach part sometimes.

"What helps us do it is Jaylyn. He's given me one of the dimensions I probably was missing as far as knowing that there's more outside of track and field. He's a constant reminder that track is only a small part of my life."

"Jaylyn, he's very demanding _ what 3{-year-old isn't?" she said. "But he's helped me become more disciplined. I make his breakfast, lunch and dinner and when he's in school I do my workouts. It's just like a job except that during the summer I travel a good deal more. "It doesn't matter that people think I'm this track star or anything. All he knows is I'm mommy. But that's part of what's so great about a child at this age. Mommy, that's all he wants of me.

"I've said it many times _ he's better than a gold medal. This is not a 49-second dream; this is a lifetime dream. Anything he does is worth more than a medal. Watching him crawl, watching him walk, listening to him, seeing him develop and grow. How precious can a life be?"

Meet the athlete

BORN: June 12, 1969, Indianapolis.

RESIDES: Gainesville.

HEIGHT: 5-9. WEIGHT: 138.

SCHOOL: Arizona State, class of '92.

PERSONAL BESTS: 1992 NCAA indoor champion; 1994 national indoor champion, second in outdoor national championships; member of 1993 world champion 1,600-meter relay team; won 400-meters at 1996 Olympic trials.

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