Jones is either unlucky or stupid. Or both

Who do you believe, Marion Jones or Victor Conte? The question was posed by Jones’s lawyer when the Olympic star was accused by Conte of having taken performance-enhancing drugs. The accusations have been the story in the United States, and beyond, over the past week.

The answer seems easy.
Conte has been indicted on 42 charges, including conspiracy to supply anabolic steroids from his Balco laboratory in California. Jones is America’s sweetheart, winner of a record five Olympic medals in 2000, three of them gold.

But there are those who have long had suspicions about Jones, not least because when it comes to choosing men she appears to be either incredibly unlucky or incredibly stupid.

First, there was CJ Hunter, the man mountain of a shot putter she met and married while at university in North Carolina. When he won the 1999 world championship in Seville, where Jones retained her 100m title, it seemed a fairy tale. A year later he tested positive for record amounts of the anabolic steroid nandrolone.

Details of his positive test emerged only three days after Jones had won the 100m, the first of her golds in Sydney. She appeared distressed and vowed to stand by her man. They were divorced within a year.

Even then, Hunter and Conte now claim, Jones was on a steroid programme that most nightclub bouncers would shy away from — steroids, human growth hormones, blood doping. Jones has always denied it and when, earlier this year, Hunter first claimed that his ex-wife had been on drugs, she said he was just an embittered ex-husband.

Had Hunter made those claims in the media, Jones’s response might have been better received. But Hunter had been talking to the Inland Revenue Service and a grand jury — where he had sworn to tell the truth and nothing but the truth.

Furthermore, at the time, Jones was being coached by Trevor Graham, who has worked with at least five sprinters who have failed drugs tests and others named by Balco.

By the time she left Graham in 2002, Jones was romantically involved with Tim Montgomery, a fellow member of Graham’s group. In public statements, Montgomery has consistently denied using drugs, and he has never failed a test. But in front of the grand jury he admitted to taking a cocktail of banned substances, including human growth hormone.

Using this evidence, the US Anti-Doping Agency charged Montgomery with a series of doping violations. He can expect to be stripped of his 2002 world record of 9,78sec for the 100m if he is banned for life when he appears before the Court of Arbitration for Sport in California next June — or even before that.

Even then, the world would perhaps believe that Jones had just been unlucky to fall in love with two men so tangled up in doping scandals. You can’t blame her for that. But being involved in a doping scandal is nothing new to Jones. As long ago as 1992, the then 15-year-old athletics phenomenon had to employ celebrity lawyer Johnnie Cochrane — the man who defended OJ Simpson — to help her contest a charge of failing to be available for a drugs test.

And when she left Graham, to whom did she turn for coaching advice? Charlie Francis, high priest of doping: a pariah in athletics who counselled Ben Johnson to use steroids in the 1988 Seoul Olympics. Jones shrugged off all criticism of her decision to employ Francis, but finally cut links with the Canadian after she came under severe pressure to do so from her biggest sponsor, Nike. 

What does it mean to athletics that its biggest name is involved in such a huge scandal? It is a similar situation to 1988 when Johnson tested positive after the 100m Olympic final. 

There have been suggestions that Jones will be stripped of the gold medals she won in Sydney if Conte’s and Hunter’s claims are proved. That would mean her 100m title passing to ... Ekaterina Thanou, who faces criminal charges in Greece after allegedly evading a drugs test on the eve of the Olympics in Athens. Were it not so sad, you would have to laugh.

For now, Jones is carrying on as normal in preparation for the 2005 season. She is working with Steve Riddick, a member of the 1976 US 4x100m relay team and one of the country’s most highly regarded coaches. 

But in 1992 Riddick admitted to the BBC television programme On The Line to being involved in attempts to beat the drug testers in Britain during his own career.

As I say, either incredibly unlucky or incredibly stupid. Or both. —

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