A Long Jump; Track-and-Field Superstar Marion Jones Tries to Outrun an Accelerating Scandal over Doping

By Starr, Mark | Newsweek, August 16, 2004 | Go to article overview

A Long Jump; Track-and-Field Superstar Marion Jones Tries to Outrun an Accelerating Scandal over Doping


Starr, Mark, Newsweek


Byline: Mark Starr

She was, her Nike handlers never ceased reminding reporters, the total package: the looks, the smile, the smarts and the easy patter. And, just incidentally, she planned to win a record five gold medals in Sydney. "I'm going to run fast and jump far," Marion Jones told NEWSWEEK back in the summer of 2000. "All my preparation is pointed at the moment when the Games are over and I have the satisfaction of having won all ?I've entered." But Jones's quest was about more than personal satisfaction or even Olympic history. Before she'd set one foot Down Under, her national charm offensive was going gangbusters. Michael Jordan may have been king, but there was room for a queen beside him on the Nike throne.

Jones never quite ascended to American royalty. While she performed brilliantly in Sydney, winning three gold medals, a silver and a bronze, when she fell short of her goal her disappointment was so palpable it became ours, too. Then there was an unseemly brush with scandal. In the middle of her competition, Jones delivered a "stand by your man" act--sealed with a for-the-cameras kiss--after revelations that her then husband, shot-putter C. J. Hunter, had tested positive for steroids. Yet a year later, after the couple (the press dubbed them "Beauty and the Beast") split up, Jones had just one lament: that her quest for fame and fortune hadn't yielded enough of the former. "We're always saying we compete for the love of the sport," she said, "but to be truthful, we want the recognition, too."

It doesn't require a presidential campaign to remind us how long four years can be. The Olympic cycle does that too. Today Jones has all the recognition she ever dreamed about; now she desires almost none of it. She has become the public face of U.S. Olympic sports' biggest drug scandal ever--despite no conclusive proof of any wrongdoing. While other stars in her sport have been suspended for violations, Jones has not been formally charged. She re-mains just a target of a United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) investigation.

The investigation stems from her involvement (she says she purchased only legal vitamin supplements) with the Bay Area Laboratory Cooperative (BALCO). Last year federal investigators raided BALCO and seized steroids, human growth hormones and other performance-enhancing drugs. Dozens of elite athletes who were BALCO clients--including Jones and her boyfriend, 100-meter world-record holder Tim Montgomery--were paraded before a federal grand jury. (So far four people, including the lab owner, have been indicted.) "I can't control people who simply read the headlines, I can't control their perception," said Jones during the recent Olympic trials, where she performed poorly and qualified for the U. …

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