Things to watch: Friday, Day 13

Updated: August 26, 2004, 10:40 PM ET news services

For two weeks in Greece, they were mostly missing in action: Marion Jones and the U.S. boxing team.

The boxers, once a powerful squad that produced fighters from Muhammad Ali to Oscar De La Hoya, were largely ignored and generally inept. Jones, the darling of the Sydney Games, failed to make the U.S. team in the prestigious sprinting events and seemed to disappear in a fog of doping rumors.

Finally, as the Athens Games head into the final weekend, fortunes have turned. Jones returns Friday to the Olympic Stadium with a shot at two gold medals, in the long jump and the 400-meter relay. And a pair of U.S. fighters hit the ring with a chance to win the first U.S. gold medals in boxing since 1996.

(All times ET; event times below might vary from TV times. Many events will be taped and broadcast later.)

What Why

Track and field
Nobody is bigger than Jones on this Olympic day.

''This is my moment,'' she said after qualifying for the long jump final, where she won the bronze in Sydney. Later, in a somewhat surprising announcement, Jones was selected to run one of the legs on the U.S. 400 relay -- an event in which she also earned a bronze four years ago.

The decision puts the American team in a potentially precarious spot, since it could win the event but lose the gold later if Jones is found guilty of a doping violation. She has repeatedly denied taking banned substances, and has not been charged with any wrongdoing.

In Sydney, Jones captured gold in the 100 meters, the 200 and the 1,600 relay, along with her two bronze medals. But four years later, the attention on Jones stemmed from allegations that she had used steroids while in Australia.

Finally, Jones can answer her critics from the place where she's most comfortable: the track.

But don't count out the Russian long jump entry of Tatyana Lebedeva, Irina Simagina and Tatyana Kotova. Lebedeva's 24-foot leap in July is the best of 2004 and the eighth best of all time. Simagina's leap of 23 feet 8 inches is second only to Lebedeva this year. Marion Jones leapt 23 feet, 4 inches to win the U.S. trails in July.

Other U.S. track and field athletes to keep an eye on: Timothy Mack and Toby Stevenson in the pole vault and Duane Ross and Terrence Trammell in the 110-meter hurdles.

When: Women's long jump, 12:45 p.m.; men's pole vault, 12:30 p.m.; women's javelin, 2 p.m.; men's 110-meter hurdles, 2:10 p.m.; women's 10,000 meters, 2:35 p.m.; women's 4x100 relay, 3:30 p.m. Track and field events will air during NBC's prime-time window, from 8 p.m. to midnight ET.

It's semifinal time for both the U.S. men's and women's basketball teams, with Stephon Marbury & Co. seeking their fourth straight gold while Sheryl Swoopes & Co. look for their third.

Team USA was impressive in its quarterfinal win over previously unbeaten and top-seeded Spain. The Americans were 12-for-22 on 3-pointers after shooting a tournament-low 24 percent in their first five games. As Spain's Pau Gasol said, "They were very good on 3s. That was something new in this tournament. They looked motivated, and it'll be hard to beat them if they keep playing like that.''

Marbury's six 3s broke the U.S. record of five set by Reggie Miller against China in 1996, and his scoring total (31 points) passed the mark of 30 points shared by Charles Barkley (1992 vs. Brazil) and Adrian Dantley (1976 vs. Yugoslavia). Lisa Leslie holds the overall U.S Olympic record with 35 points (1996 vs. Japan).

On the women's side, the Americans meet Russia, two teams that have a history of not liking each other.

When: Russia vs. United States (women), 7:30 a.m. Will air live on the USA Network; Argentina vs. United States, 1 p.m. Will air live as part of NBC's afternoon coverage.

Just when USA boxing seemed down and out in Athens, a double dose of Dre day arrived. And though they're already assured of a medal, American fighters Andre Dirrell and Andre Ward know something a bit shinier than bronze can only help possible pro success.

Dirrell, a middleweight, faces 2003 World Champion Gennadiy Golovkin of Kazakhstan. Ward, a light heavyweight, meets Utkirbek Haydarov of Uzbekistan. Winners move on to Sunday's gold-medal matches.

For both fighters, boxing was a family affair.

Dirrell was a boy of 10 when his grandfather, Leon Lawson, introduced him to the sport. Lawson, a former bodyguard and sparring partner for Ali, stayed on his pupil's back.

As payback, Dirrell now sports a tattoo of grandpa on his back. And he'd like to give Lawson one more gift: a gold medal.

As for Ward, he thought about the advice of his late father before climbing into the ring for his quarterfinal bout with two-time world champion Evgeny Makarenko of Russia.

"My father always told me that in big fights you have to rise to the occasion,'' Ward said. "That's what great fighters do.''

Ward did just that in his victory over the Russian, and he's facing at least one more big fight.

Because there is no third place box-off in the Olympics, both Americans are assured of at least a bronze medal, even if they lose their semifinal bouts Friday.

When: Both fights will be shown during CNBC's boxing coverage, 5 p.m.-8 p.m.

Information from the Associated Press and Scripps Howard News Service was included in this report.