- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 7, 2006

The backup drug test for sprinter Marion Jones came back negative, clearing the five-time Olympic medalist of doping allegations that have dogged her for the past month, her attorneys said last night.

“I am absolutely ecstatic,” Jones said in a statement released by her lawyers. “I have always maintained that I have never ever taken performance enhancing drugs, and I am pleased that a scientific process has now demonstrated that fact.”

Jones tested positive for the banned endurance enhancer EPO on June 23. She withdrew from a meet in Switzerland hours before reports of the test result were revealed.

The backup, or “B,” test, conducted at the same UCLA lab using the same sample, came back negative, however, meaning the 30-year-old sprinter has been cleared of any wrongdoing. She faced a minimum two-year ban.

“I am anxious to get back on the track,” Jones said.

The statement, released by attorney Rich Nichols, said the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency informed Jones that the test had come back negative. USADA does not comment on active cases and never acknowledged Jones’ positive “A” test.

USADA general counsel Travis Tygart did not immediately return messages left late last night by the Associated Press. U.S. Olympic Committee spokesman Darryl Seibel said the federation had no comment on the news.

Questions have long been raised about the reliability of EPO testing, and this negative “B” test will spark further debate.

“I believe there are issues with that test,” said Howard Jacobs, another Jones attorney who has defended several athletes on doping charges. “It’s a difficult test. From what I saw on the ‘A’ sample, it was questionable as to whether it should’ve been called a positive. I can’t say I was shocked that the ‘B’ came back negative based on what the ‘A’ looked like.”

As he has in the doping case involving Tour de France winner Floyd Landis, Jacobs derided the leaking of positive tests. Doping cases aren’t supposed to be made public until they are resolved, but most become public through the media once a positive “A” test is confirmed.

“This is a perfect illustration of why this new trend of leaking A-positives is a horrible thing,” Jacobs said. “This whole thing should have happened anonymously. Marion should’ve been able to keep competing, and no one should have known about it.”

EPO is also known as Erythropoietin, a banned performance-enhancer that can boost endurance.

Jones, who has five world championships to go with her Olympic medals, dominated track and field in the late 1990s. At the Sydney Games, she became the first woman to win five Olympic medals — taking gold in the 100 meters, 200 meters, 1,600-meter relay and bronze in the long jump and 400-meter relay.

Since then, her reputation has been sullied. She is one of several athletes who has testified to the federal grand jury investigating BALCO in 2003. Her ex-husband, C.J. Hunter, and Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative founder Victor Conte have accused her of using banned substances, allegations she has denied.

Her former coach, Trevor Graham, has been linked to several athletes in trouble for doping, including Justin Gatlin, who recently tested positive for testosterone or other steroids and faces a possible eight-year ban. Last December, the father of Jones’ son, sprinter Tim Montgomery, retired after he was banned for two years for doping violations — the result of information gathered in the BALCO probe.

But she always held firm to the fact that no positive test had ensnared her, a fact that stood in serious doubt less than a month ago. The result of this “B” test, however, means that Jones is free to compete.

Jacobs said it also places a burden on sports federations and those who administer the tests to make sure they’re doing a good job and following protocol on releasing results.

“They need to look at their procedures,” Jacobs said. “Not USADA so much as the sports federations” who leak the positive tests.

“They always talk about holding athletes to the highest standards. They need to follow their own rules. This kind of calls them on the carpet.”

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