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Nightmares may just be beginning for Jones

June 03, 2005 11:17 IST
Courteous as always but with her unsmiling face betraying the nightmares threatening to crush her career, Marion Jones completed a fleeting and unsuccessful European visit on Wednesday.

The woman trumpeted as the new face of track and field when she returned to athletics in 1997 after an outstanding basketball career was beaten twice in four days by her former training partner Chandra Sturrup.

Her times of 11.29 seconds in the Dutch town of Hengelo on Sunday followed by 11.67 into a headwind in Milan on Wednesday were pedestrian.

The persistent questions about the ban imposed on Jones and her partner Tim Montgomery by most of Europe's leading promoters because of their association with the infamous BALCO laboratory were not.

Montgomery, who startled the world by breaking the world 100 metres record in September 2002, will have his appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) against a possible life ban for serious doping offences heard in San Francisco next week. Jones, who like Montgomery was a client of the laboratory, has been investigated by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency but not charged.

Eight years ago Jones arrived unannounced in Europe as nine-times Olympic champion Carl Lewis savoured a farewell visit to the continent's athletics stadiums.

During the traditional strawberry party held on the eve of Oslo's Bislett Games, the young Californian enchanted guests with her charm and poise. The next evening she gained another set of converts by demonstrating she was also an exceptional athletics talent.

GOLDEN AMBITIONS

By the kind of coincidence for which promoters pray, Jones, like Lewis, was a sprinter-long jumper and just as ambitious. Within the next couple of years Jones would announce she aimed to go one better than Lewis at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics or Jesse Owens in 1936 by winning five gold medals.

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Jones won five medals at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, three of them gold. But in a discomfiting footnote it was announced during the Games that her then husband C.J. Hunter had tested positive four times for massive amounts of the steroid nandrolone during the same year.

In Sydney Jones stood by her man at a tense news conference during which the hulking world shot put champion broke down in tears as he protested his innocence. The pair parted and in 2002 Jones was with Montgomery.

At the grand prix final in Paris Montgomery shot unexpectedly to a world record in the 100 metres, becoming the first man to better the expunged mark of 9.79 seconds set by the drug-fuelled Ben Johnson at the 1988 Seoul Olympics.

After sprinting faster than any man before or since, Montgomery could not even qualify for last year's Athens Olympics as his career went into freefall.

Instead he was questioned behind closed doors about his relationship with BALCO, which was raided by federal investigators after the pair's former coach Trevor Graham turned in a syringe containing a new designer steroid to the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA).

Montgomery was charged with serious doping offences and last month the group representing Europe's leading promoters said neither athlete was now welcome at their meetings.

DUBIOUS ASSOCIATES

Inevitably Jones faced questions about the ban before the Hengelo meeting.

"I'm not charged with anything," she protested. "I should be invited to every meeting."

Although there is widespread sympathy for Jones's resentment at a blanket ban, she unwittingly made herself a hostage to fortune when she added: "If they want to have the best in the world and they don't invite me to their meetings they will be letting themselves down."

After her poor performances in Europe, Jones pulled out of Saturday's Prefontaine Classic, the most prestigious grand prix in the United States.

At the same time, organisers of the July 5 super grand prix meeting in Lausanne announced that they would not invite her to their event because she was not in shape.

On her present form Jones does not deserve a lane at a major international meeting and she will need a marked improvement to qualify for the world championships in Helsinki in August under the first-three-past-the-post system at the U.S. trials.

Unease within the sport has focused on Jones's inability to recapture consistent form since the birth of her son 18 months ago coupled with her growing list of dubious associates.

At the 2000 Sydney news conference the Jones team presented nutritionist Victor Conte, who said he had supplied legal supplements to Hunter.

Fours years later Conte, the head of BALCO who goes on trial this September, said on U.S. television he had watched Jones inject drugs in Sydney. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Hunter has told investigators he injected Jones with drugs at the Sydney Games.

In 2003 Jones and Montgomery teamed up with Johnson's former mentor Charlie Francis, who is banned for life from coaching in his native Canada after admitting to a federal inquiry he had put Johnson on a drugs programme.

The relationship, a matter of serious concern to the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) and Jones's shoe sponsors NIKE, did not last long but to her increasing band of critics Jones seemed worryingly reluctant to admit there was anything wrong in having any sort of contact with a track and field pariah.

John Mehaffey
Source:
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