WHITE PLAINS, United States (AFP) — US sprint star Marion Jones finally stopped running from the truth on Friday, admitting she took banned steroids prior to her triumphant 2000 Olympic campaign. The belated confession, after years of vehement doping denials, could see her stripped of the five medals she won in Sydney, three of them gold.
And the guilty plea she entered in a US court – to lying to a federal agent about both her drug use and an unrelated fraud case – could land her behind bars. “I want you to know I have been dishonest, and you have the right to be angry with me,” a tearful Jones said after her court appearance. “Because of my actions, I am retiring from the sport of track and field, a sport which I deeply loved.” Jones, struggling for composure as her mother stood behind her, asked her fans for forgiveness. “It is with a great amount of shame that I stand before you to tell you that I have betrayed … your trust,” she said. “I want to ask for your forgiveness for my actions.”
For years Jones had aggressively denied doping, even as her name repeatedly cropped up in connection with drugs. Her first husband, shot putter C.J. Hunter, was convicted of doping, and sprinter Tim Montgomery, with whom she had a son in 2003, was stripped of his 100 meter world record and banned from the sport based on evidence gathered in the Bay Area Laboratory Cooperative (BALCO) steroid distribution scandal. It was during that investigation, in November of 2003, that Jones lied to federal agents who asked her about her use of “the clear,” a product produced by BALCO and later learned to be the synthetic steroid THG.
In a statement read out to the court, Jones admitted using THG from September 2000 until July 2001. “In September 2000, before the Sydney Olympics, (former coach Trevor) Graham began providing me with a substance he told me was flaxseed oil,” she said. “I continued to use this substance until July 2001. “By November 2003, I realized that what Graham had given to me was a performance enhancing drug,” Jones told the court. She is due to be sentenced on January 11. The two charges of lying to a federal agent carry a combined maxiumum sentence of 10 years.
In light of her plea agreement, prosecutors said they would consider a sentence of up to six months reasonable, but the sentencing judge is not bound by that recommendation. Jones, once hailed as the greatest woman athlete in the world, was also an articulate pitchwoman who put a glamorous face on her sport. She commanded millions in endorsements and appeared on magazine covers ranging from Sports Illustrated to Time to Vogue. But as she battled the doping accusations, she struggled on the track and saw invitations to prestigious competitions dwindle.
Jones, however, aggressively maintained her innocence. She even sued BALCO founder Victor Conte — one of five men convicted in the case — for defamation over his accusations on US television that she was a drugs cheat, later settling out of court. Earlier this year, Jones said she was virtually broke. Her medals from Sydney appear to be in jeopardy not only for her but also for her relay teammates, who share a gold for the 4x400m and a bronze for the 4x100m. US Olympic Committee chairman Peter Ueberroth welcomed Jones’s “overdue” confession, and called on her to return her Olympic medals without waiting for sports officials to take them away.
“Her acceptance of responsibility does not end with today’s admission,” Ueberroth said. “As further recognition of her complicity in this matter, Ms. Jones should immediately step forward and return the Olympic medals she won while competing in violation of the rules.” In becoming one of the highest-profile athletes convicted of using banned drugs, Jones joined a hall of shame that includes Canadian Ben Johnson and the 100 meters Olympics gold medalist of 2004, Justin Gatlin.