- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 27, 2004

She was the darling of the 2000 Sydney Olympics, capturing five medals and a pocketful of endorsements. Her quest for more gold this summer, barely a year after having a baby with the world’s fastest man, was sure to be the feel-good story of the Athens Games.

Life seemingly could not have been better for Marion Jones.

Then the BALCO steroid scandal unfolded.

Now she’s being investigated for possible doping violations. Her reputation and her career are threatened. Her boyfriend could face a lifetime ban for alleged drug use, her ex-husband and ex-coach are talking to the feds.

And she could do no better than fifth in the 100 meters — an event she once dominated, capturing Olympic gold and two world titles — at her last meet before the U.S. Olympic trials.

How could it have all gone so wrong?

Instead of focusing on her quest for more medals this summer, she’s struggling just to protect her chance of making the U.S. Olympic team — and battling to clear her name.

“I am fighting to preserve something that is priceless … my reputation,” Jones said this week in an e-mail interview with the Associated Press. “There are other Olympic Games. I only have one reputation, and that is what I am fighting to preserve.”

Jones repeatedly has denied ever using prohibited drugs and points out she has passed 160 doping tests. But that no longer is enough — the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency is using documents and other circumstantial evidence from the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative case to go after athletes on doping charges.

Though Jones has not been formally notified she is the target of a USADA probe, she remains under investigation. She met with USADA officials in May and answered follow-up questions from the agency this month.

“Imagine someone questioning all of the hard work that you’ve done in your life. Imagine that. It’s difficult,” Jones said at a press conference last week in San Francisco. “My name is the one being questioned. My reputation, my career.”

It wasn’t supposed to be like this.

After winning three gold medals in Sydney, Jones was named AP Female Athlete of the Year for 2000. She starred in ads for companies such as American Express and Nike. She was track and field’s biggest star, and one of the world’s most popular athletes.

Even her personal life seemed to be following a Hollywood script. After divorcing surly shot putter C.J. Hunter, who retired in 2000 after four positive drug tests, Jones started dating training partner Tim Montgomery. He ran his fastest time wearing her shoes and then broke the world record using her starting blocks.

Shortly after giving birth to their child in June 2003, Jones announced she was coming back for the 2004 Summer Games — and within six weeks, she was at her racing weight.

But there already had been troubling signs. Jones and Montgomery had an acrimonious split with coach Trevor Graham in the winter of 2003, and for a short time they worked with disgraced coach Charlie Francis — who supplied steroids to Ben Johnson in the 1980s.

Jones and Montgomery both testified last fall before a grand jury probing BALCO, but the focus at first was on baseball players like Barry Bonds and Jason Giambi. Jones and Montgomery said their relationship with BALCO founder Victor Conte, one of four men indicted on charges of distributing steroids to top athletes, was minimal.

The spotlight has turned to track and field, though, as the U.S. Olympic trials and the Athens Games approach. Montgomery is one of four sprinters now facing drug charges and a possible lifetime ban based on evidence from the BALCO case. He says he has never used drugs and has done nothing wrong.

In recent weeks, Jones has taken the offensive in her battle with USADA. At the press conference in San Francisco, she defiantly accused the anti-doping agency of being a “kangaroo court” and demanded a public hearing. She offered to provide her grand jury testimony to USADA, and took a lie detector test to bolster her claim she has been drug-free.

The bubbly and media-savvy Jones remains extremely popular. On the day before last weekend’s Prefontaine Classic in Eugene, Ore., the line of fans waiting to get Jones’ autograph extended out the door of a Nike store.

And some newspaper columnists have come to her defense, saying she is being unfairly targeted and accusing USADA of everything from McCarthyism to conducting a witch hunt. USADA maintains it is merely following the anti-doping rules endorsed by athletes.

Jones said in the e-mail interview that her current sponsors “have been totally supportive. They believe in me, they know I am drug-free and they are steadfast with their support.”

But she may be losing other endorsement chances. Paul Swangard, managing director of the Warsaw Sports Marketing Center at the University of Oregon, says corporations are leery of athletes tainted by drug allegations or other legal problems.

“She may still have more friends than enemies, but there’s a big difference between what the impact is on her general appeal and whether businesses would want to attach themselves to her,” Swangard said.

The skirmishes with USADA have been a constant distraction as Jones prepares for what she hopes will be another run at five Olympic gold medals. She’s in limbo, facing no charges at this point but knowing USADA could be building a case that might keep her out of the Aug. 13-29 Olympics.

Though she refused to blame her fifth-place finish at the Prefontaine meet on such distractions, she repeatedly has accused USADA of dragging out her case.

Her son, Monty, turns 1 tomorrow. Jones says motherhood solidified her desire to compete until the Beijing Olympics in four years.

“Monty and my family are the most important things to me now, and they have provided me strength during the current situation. I know that no matter what happens, when I come home Monty and my family are and will always be there for me, no matter what,” she said in the e-mail.

“My plans have not changed. I will be there in Beijing in 2008. In fact, Monty will be 5 years old in 2008, and I can’t wait for him to see his mom compete.”

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