Marion Jones, the American track and field star who won five medals, including three golds, at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia, was sentenced to six-months in prison and two-years probation in connection with her guilty plea that she lied to federal investigators and gave false testimony to a federal grand jury during the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative (BALCO) steroid investigation. The guilty plea, entered into federal court on October 5, 2007, also admitted her involvement in a check fraud scheme.
So far, Jones is the most prominent athlete to be caught up in a sports doping scandal. Barry Bonds, who also is part of the BALCO investigation, faces his own reckoning later this year.
After denying she had taken performance-enhancing drugs, Jones finally admitted in federal court to taking steroids before the Sydney Olympics, an admission which lead to a two-year suspension from competition and her being stripped of every medal and title dating back to September 2000. The International Olympics Committee then stripped her of her Olympics medals.
Throughout her successful and highly remunerative career, Jones — the first female track and field star to become a millionaire — was bedeviled by charges that she used performance-enhancing drugs. Those charges were with her from the very beginning, from when she was 16 years-old. In 1992, the Los Angeles-born Jones failed to show up at a random drug-test while a high school athlete. Jones had made her reputation the year before when, as a 15-year-old, she broke the national high school record for the 200 meter dash with a time of 22.87 seconds.
Her mother, who had hired a private coach for Marion, also hired Johnnie Cochran to defend her at a hearing over the missed drug test. She was exonerated with the defense that she had never received the letter informing her to show up for the drug test. Cochran subsequently went on to head the legal “Dream Team” that successfully defended O.J. Simpson on murder charges.
The teenage Marion decided she liked basketball better than track and field, and this lead to a scholarship to the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill,. where she played point guard for the Lady Tar Heels. It was at North Carolina that she met C.J. Hunter, her future husband, who was then a track coach and Olympics-class athlete in the shotput. They first met in 1998, after which the seven-years-older Hunter resigned his coaching position at North Carolina to conform with school policy that banned dating between coaches and their athletes. Jones was thrilled that Hunter was so devoted to her, and they married in October of that year.
Jones trained with multiple coaches who had connections to illegal or banned performance-enhancing drugs: Trevor Graham, who currently is being investigated on drug charges by a federal grand jury; Charlie Francis, who admitted to providing steroids to the disgraced Canadian runner Ben Johnson, who was stripped of the gold meal he won in the 100-meter race at the 1988 Summer Olympics Games in Seoul; and Steven Riddick, who has trained many athletes who subsequently became involved in drug scandals. However, it was Jones’ involvement with BALCO that did her in.
Trevor Graham was the man who blew the whistle on BALCO, when he anonymously sent a syringe filled with “The Clear” to the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency. Jones was introduced to Graham by C.J. Hunter. Hunter also introduced her to Victor Conte, the founder of BALCO, which had been supplying him with steroids.
C.J. Hunter had won the gold medal in the shotput at the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) World Games in 1999. Hunter was the favorite to win the gold medal at the the 2000 Olympics, but he pulled out of the games two weeks before they were to start, saying it was due to a complications from knee surgery. it was soon revealed that Hunter had tested positive for steroids four times, failing one in-competition and three out-of-competition tests, and that both the IAAF and the U.S.A Track and Field knew about it but had refused to act.
Some observers believe that the International Olympic Committee blew the whistle on C.J. Hunter to embarrass the Americans, who it was felt, had not done enough to eliminate doping from American track and field. American track and field officials were considered hypocrites who complained about doping by other countries but did little to stop it among the country’s own athletes, lest it alienate corporate sponsors.
Subsequently, Hunter held a press conference where he denied using performance-enhancing drugs. His nutritionist also appeared and claimed that the positives were caused by an iron supplement Hunter was taking. The nutritionist was Victor Conte.
After Hunter’s public humiliation, his marriage with Jones floundered. They separated in 2001 and were divorced in 2002. Marion Jones subsequently lived with sprinter Tim Montgomery, the gold medalist at the 2000 Olympics in the 4×100 meter relay who set a world record in the 100-meter dash in 2002. The father of her son, Tim Montgomery, Jr. and another BALCO client, Montgomery never tested positive for drugs. However, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency accused him of using illegal steroids, based on evidence from the BALCO investigation.
In 2004, Tim Montgomery admitted before a federal grand jury that BALCO had given him performance-enhancing drugs. Subsequently, he was stripped of his world record and retired from the sport.
Victor Conte told ABC-TV’s 20/20 on a December 3, 2004 broadcast that he had supplied Marion Jones with illegal performance-enhancing drugs, including the infamous designer steroid tetrahydrogestrinone (THG), also known as “The Clear,” for the 2000 Olympics. Jones’s now-ex-husband C.J. Hunter told the press that he himself had witnessed Jones injecting herself with steroids.
It is believed that Hunter had not gotten over his divorce from Jones, and was seeking revenge. However, other grand jury testimony reveals that Jones’ connection with BALCO preceded and continued after the 2000 Olympics Games.
Victor Conte later served four-months in federal prison and was fined $10,000 for trafficking in performance-enhancing drugs.
Jones, who had first become a target of the BALCO investigation in 2003, denied to federal investigators and a grand jury that she had used THG, claiming that she was given what she thought was flaxseed oil for two years by her coach, Trevor Graham. Barry Bonds, major league baseball’s home-run king, also claimed that he thought “The Clear” he was taking was flaxseed oil.
Until 2006, Jones had never failed a drug test. BALCO was famous for providing designer steroids that were impervious to extant drug tests. However, on June 23, 2006, Jones failed a urine test at the USA Track & Field Championships, testing positive for erythropoietin, a banned-drug, in her “A” sample. Subsequently, Jones withdrew from the Weltklasse IAAF Golden League games in Zürich, Switzerland for “personal reasons.” Through her attorneys, Jones released a statement revealing that she had been cleared of doping charges as her “B” sample had been clean.
Compounding her problems, Marion Jones was implicated in a fraudulent check/money-laundering ring in July 2006, through her association with Tim Montgomery. Montgomery was indicted federal fraud charges in 2006 for his involvement in a money laundering conspriacy headed by his former coach Steve Riddick, who also is a defendant in the case. Riddick was the gold-medalist at the 1976 Montreal Olympics in the 4×100 meter relay.
Montgomery was accused of depositing counterfeit checks worth a face value of $775,000, for which he received $20,000 from Riddick. On April 9 2007, he pleaded guilty to the charges. As part of the same money-laundering scam, Marion Jones deposited a counterfeit $25,000 check into her bank account. Riddick was another of her former coaches.
Marion Jones’ compounding legal troubles since 2003 have cost her her fortune, according to a story carried by the Associated Press. In addition to defending herself during the BALCO investigation, the litigious Jones has had to pay for legal help to press her defamation lawsuit against Victor Conte, and for negotiations with the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, which has tried to ban her from competition. As late as 2006, Jones was making $70,000 to $80,000 per race.
Another costly court battle was her breach-of-contract suit she filed against coach Dan Pfaff, who countersued and won a $240,000 judgment against Jones for unpaid fees and legal expenses.. In legal documentation related to this suit, it was revealed that Jones’ millions are gone, and that she has only $2,000 left. Jones has been forced to liquidate her $2.5 million mansion in Michael Jordan’s Chapel Hill, North Carolina neighborhood.
On February 24, 2007, Marion Jones married Barbados-born Obadele Thompson in Wilson’s Mills, North Carolina. Jones and Thompson, the bronze medal-winner at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, met when they were being trained by Pfaff in Texas. Jones gave birth to their son in July, but the marriage reportedly is under strain.
A financially strapped Jones likely decided to throw in the towel and stop battling her legal problems. She may have had no choice, due to her lack of funds.
In October 5, 2007, at the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York in White Plains, New York, Jones pleaded guilty to lying to federal agents about her use of steroids and to making false statements regarding BALCO and the Montgomery-Riddick check fraud case. After entering her guilty plea, a tearful Jones held a press conference on the courthouse steps, in which she apologized. “I stand before you and tell you that I have betrayed your trust…and you have the right to be angry with me…. I have let my country down and I have let myself down.”
The International Olympic Committee officially stripped Jones of her three gold and two bronze medals that she won at the 2000 Summer Olympics. She also is banned from being part of the 2012 Olympics games, in any capacity.
In addition to her six-month-long prison-term, Jones will have to serve two years probation after her release from jail. She could have been sentenced for up to five years.
Prior to her sentencing, International Association of Athletics Federations President Lamine Diack issued a statement that claimed, “Marion Jones will be remembered as one of the biggest frauds in sporting history.”
Washington Post, “Marion Jones Admits to Steroid Use,” by Amy Shipley
New York Times, “Judge Sentences Jones to 6 Months in Prison,” by Lynn Zinser
BBC Sport, “Marion Jones’s Fall From Grace”