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Jones slips out of sight

August 14, 2004 16:10 IST

Four years ago Marion Jones stood at the pinnacle of her sport.

No name was bigger in the sometimes troubled sport of athletics, no medals haul greater than the three Olympic golds and two bronzes won by the personable American at the Sydney Olympics.

On Saturday, though, as the 2004 Games began in Athens, Jones had disappeared from the Olympic radar.

As the television cameras of the opening ceremony zoomed in on the new hopes of the Olympic movement late on Friday, Jones was in Crete training at the United States camp.

Instead of waging another campaign for five golds, she seems likely to compete in only the long jump and perhaps the 4x100 metres relay in Athens. Unlike Sydney, she did not qualify for the 100 and 200 metres, her primary events.

What happened to the quest to become the goddess of athletics?

Coaching changes, the birth of a child and an investigation by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) have filled Jones's life since her Sydney runs.

Her former husband C.J. Hunter, in leaked grand jury testimony, has allegedly accused her of doping before and during the 2000 Games.

Her current boyfriend and the father of her one-year-old son, 100 metres world record holder Tim Montgomery, is one of four Americans accused of doping violations in connection with the inquiry into the BALCO laboratory.


Jones herself has testified before the San Francisco grand jury investigating the California nutritional supplements company.

She has not been charged with a doping violation by USADA, but remains under investigation.

For months Jones has emphatically denied ever taking banned performance-enhancing substances, and she and her lawyers have pointed to the dozens of doping tests she has successfully passed.

Still, her associations with Hunter and Canadian coach Charlie Francis, the man who introduced former world record holder Ben Johnson to drugs, have cast a large shadow over the woman who was once the shining light of the sport.

Significantly, instead of welcoming her and offering large appearance fees, promoters of Europe's prestigious Zurich Golden League meeting last week rejected Jones's entry.

Her highlight event is most likely to be the long jump, once her weakest event. Now, thanks to new coach, technical expert Dan Pfaff, she is the Olympic favourite.

The former mentor of 1996 Olympic 100 champion Donovan Bailey, Pfaff has become Jones's permanent coach. His selection followed an international uproar over Jones's and Montgomery's brief, but ill-fated, liaison with Francis.

Previously the couple had worked with Trevor Graham, who guided Jones to her 100, 200 and 4x100 relay gold medals during the Sydney Games. He, too, has denied allegations by Hunter that he supplied banned substances to Jones.

Jones could also grab gold in the 4x100 metres relay, where the United States would be the favourites with Jones in the mix. The team will not be determined until after the women's 100 metres final next Saturday and the long jump on August 27.

All she needs, those close to her say, is time to recover from the birth of her son Monty before she is again among the world's top sprinters.

For now, though, she must watch as others step forward to succeed her as the 100 and 200 metres gold medallists and wait to see if USADA will charge her with a doping violation.

It is a journey far different from the one Jones envisioned when she flew away from Sydney four years ago loaded with gold and ambition.

Athens 2004: The Complete Coverage

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