The Guardian Newspapers

Jones delivers controversy

Duncan Mackay in Gateshead
Sunday June 27, 2004
The Observer

The conundrum for Fast Track, organisers of today's British grand prix, is how do they promote the world-class meeting around a triple Olympic gold medallist who finds herself at the centre of the biggest doping scandal in United States history?

Having agreed a handsome six-figure appearance fee with Marion Jones to compete in the long jump, the organisers find that the athletics events are entirely overshadowed by the ongoing FBI investigation into the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative (Balco) and its clients, including Jones and her partner Tim Montgomery.

Jones, 28, was either not made available or declined to do any press conferences ahead of today's event, but nevertheless the promotional get togethers with those such as Paula Radcliffe and Denise Lewis had the same item at the top of the agenda.

It was a grumpy press officer who read yesterday's newspapers that largely ignored Radcliffe, running her first 10,000 metres for nearly two years, in favour of further coverage of Jones.

She has travelled here despite the fact that Montgomery, the father of her one-year-old son, was officially charged by the US Anti-Doping Agency last Wednesday for doping violations. The agency has called for Montgomery to be banned for life and for all his performances of the last four years to be annulled, including the world 100m record of 9.78sec he ran in Paris in 2002.

He has publicly denied the allegations but his case was undermined the next day when the San Francisco Chronicle published the testimony he had given to a grand jury in which he admitted knowingly taking banned human growth hormone.

Jones must feel like her life is rapidly unravelling, even though she has not been charged by Usada. Things are hardly going to plan on the track either. She finished fifth in the 100m - an event she once dominated, capturing Olympic gold and two world titles - in her last race.

The situation has become so serious that Jones is contemplating something that would once have been unthinkable: pulling out of the Olympics in Athens later this year. 'I am fighting to preserve something that is priceless - my reputation,' she said. 'There are other Olympic Games. I only have one reputation.'

The problem for Jones is that throughout her career she has associated herself with people linked to doping. Her former husband, the 1999 world shot putt champion CJ Hunter, was banned for two years in 2000 after failing four drugs test. The man brought in to defend him at a news conference that Jones attended in Sydney was Victor Conte, the founder and owner of Balco and now at the centre of the FBI investigation.

She then left her coach Trevor Graham, linked to a number of athletes who have tested positive, and began working with Charlie Francis, the Canadian coach who admitted administering steroids to Ben Johnson. Now her latest partner, Montgomery, is facing a life ban.

Jones repeatedly has denied ever using banned drugs and points out she has passed 160 doping tests. But Usada is using documents and other circumstantial evidence from Balco to try to ban athletes they suspect of having used drugs.

In recent weeks, Jones has taken the offensive. She has accused Usada of being a 'kangaroo court' and demanded a public hearing. She offered to provide her grand jury testimony to Usada, and claims to have taken a lie-detector test to bolster her claim she has been drug-free.

Jones has her critics, including the International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge, but she also her defenders. 'We've seen nothing yet on Marion Jones to declare her guilty or even suspicious,' said Robert Weiner, the White House's former spokesman on National Drug Policy. 'It's true, Jones has been linked to questionable companions - but there is a big difference between what your companions do and what you do, and there is inadequate evidence to prove that Jones is guilty of anything more than possibly having bad taste in men.'