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Marion Jones

Marion Lois Jones, also known as Marion Jones-Thompson (born October 12, 1975 in Los Angeles, California), is a former world champion American track and field athlete. She won five medals at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia but has since been stripped of every Olympic medal dating back to September 2000 after admitting that she took performance-enhancing drugs.

In October 2007, Jones admitted she doped, having taken steroids before the Sydney 2000 Summer Olympics and acknowledged that she had, in fact, lied when she previously denied steroid use in statements to the press, to various sports agencies, and—most significantly—to two grand juries, one impaneled to investigate the BALCO "designer steroid" ring, and the other impaneled to investigate a check fraud ring involving many of the same parties from the BALCO case. As a result of these admissions, Jones accepted a two-year suspension from track and field competition, and announced her retirement from track and field on October 5, 2007. The United States Anti-Doping Agency stated that the sanction “also requires disqualification of all her competitive results obtained after September 1, 2000, and forfeiture of all medals, results, points and prizes”. On October 5, 2007, Jones formally pled guilty to lying to federal agents in the BALCO steroid investigation in the U.S. District Court. On January 11, 2008, Jones was sentenced to 6 months in jail. She began her sentence on March 7, 2008 and was released on September 5, 2008.

At the time of her admission and subsequent guilty plea, Marion Jones was one of the most famous people to be linked to the BALCO investigation. 41 days later, Major League Baseball player Barry Bonds was indicted on one count of obstruction of justice and four counts of perjury linked to his own testimony before the BALCO Grand Jury in December 2003.

Personal life

Jones was born to Marion (who is Belizean) and George Jones (who is African American) in Los Angeles, California. She holds dual citizenship with the United States and Belize (her mother's home country). Jones' mother remarried a retired postal worker, Ira Toler, three years later; Toler became a stay-at-home dad to Jones and her older half-brother, Albert Kelly, until his sudden death in 1987. Jones turned to sports--running, pickup basketball games, and anything else her brother Albert was doing athletically--as an outlet for her grief, and by the age of 15 she was routinely dominating California high school athletics both on the track and the basketball courts.

Jones is a 1997 graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. While there, she met and began dating one of the track coaches, shot putter C. J. Hunter. Hunter was forced to resign his position at UNC due to university rules prohibiting coach/athlete dating. Jones and Hunter were married October 3, 1998, and trained for the Sydney 2000 Summer Olympics with their new athletic coach Trevor Graham. Graham would later gain notoriety for his role in providing both athletes with Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative (BALCO) designer steroids ("The Cream", "The Clear"), undetectable at the time, as well as providing a sample of BALCO's most successful product ("The Clear") to the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), where it was identified as tetrahydrogestrinone (THG) and a detection method was developed.

In the run-up to the 2000 Olympics, all eyes were on Marion Jones, who had announced at a press conference during her pre-Olympic book-signing tour that she intended to win gold medals in all five of her competition events at Sydney. Lost in the hoopla and the publicity was a low-key announcement that Jones' husband C. J. Hunter had quietly withdrawn from the Shot Put competition due to a knee injury, though he was allowed to keep his coaching credentials and attend the games to support his wife. However, just hours after Marion Jones won her first of the planned five golds, the IOC announced that Hunter had failed no fewer than four pre-Olympic drug tests, testing positive each time for the banned anabolic steroid nandrolone. Hunter was immediately suspended from taking any role at the Sydney games, and he was ordered to surrender his on-field coaching credentials. At a press conference where Hunter broke down in tears as a subdued Marion Jones sat by his side, Hunter denied taking any performance enhancing drugs at all, much less the easily-detected nandrolone (which showed up in all four tests in amounts over 1000 times normal levels); Victor Conte of BALCO, who was regularly supplying "nutritional supplements" to Graham's athletes, blamed the test results on "an iron supplement" that contained nandrolone precursors and tied previous positive nandrolone tests from Jamaican sprinter Merlene Ottey and British sprinter Linford Christie to the same supplement. As late as 2004, Hunter was still denying the charges and was attempting to gain access to the results to see if they could be analyzed further. Jones would later write in her autobiography, Marion Jones: Life in the Fast Lane, that Hunter's positive drug tests hurt their marriage and her image as a drug-free athlete. The couple divorced in 2002.

On June 28, 2003, Jones gave birth to a son (Tim Montgomery Jr.) with then-boyfriend Tim Montgomery, a world class sprinter himself. Because of her pregnancy, Jones missed the 2003 World Championships, but spent a year preparing for the 2004 Olympics. Montgomery, who did not qualify for the 2004 Olympic Track and Field team due to poor performance, was charged by USADA, as part of the investigation into the BALCO doping scandal, with receiving and using banned performance enhancing drugs and sought a four-year suspension for Montgomery. Montgomery fought the ban but lost the appeal on December 13, 2005, receiving a two-year ban from track and field competition; the Court for Arbitration of Sport (CAS) also stripped Montgomery of all race results, records, medals, etc., from March 31, 2001 onward. Montgomery later announced his retirement. The investigation into Montgomery's illegal substance use once more called into question Marion Jones' own protests about not using steroids and never having been tested positive for steroids, especially in light of former trainer Trevor Graham's increasingly visible role in the BALCO case.

On February 24, 2007, Marion Jones married Barbadian sprinter and 2000 Olympic medalist (bronze, 100 m sprint) Obadele Thompson. Their first child together was born in July 2007.

Sports career

In high school, Jones won the California state championship in the 100 m sprint four years in a row, representing Rio Mesa and Thousand Oaks high schools. She was successfully defended by attorney Johnnie Cochran on charges of doping during her high school track career.

She was invited to participate in the 1992 Olympic trials, and, after her showing in the 200 m finals, would have made the team as an alternate in the 4x100 m Relay, but she declined the invitation. After winning further statewide sprint titles, she accepted a full scholarship to the University of North Carolina in basketball, where she helped the team win the NCAA championship in her freshman year. Jones "red shirted" her 1996 basketball season to concentrate on track. After Jones lost her spot on the 1996 Olympic team because of an injury, she decided to concentrate on track and field.

She excelled at her first major international competition, winning the 100 m sprint at the 1997 World Championships in Athens, while finishing 10th in the long jump. At the 1999 World Championships, Jones attempted to win four titles, but injured herself in the 200 m after a gold in the 100 m and a long jump bronze.

Then in Sydney, Jones told the press that she was aiming for five gold medals. As it was considered a possibility by fans and pundits alike, she was a media darling during the Olympics. However, she finished with three golds and two bronzes, still an astonishing feat which had never been achieved by a female athlete before. She was later stripped of these medals after admitting that she used performance-enhancing drugs at the time. Her ex-husband Hunter, an Olympic shot-putter and confessed steroid user, testified under oath that he had seen her inject drugs into her stomach in the Olympic Village in Sydney, and her coach Trevor Graham was involved in a major drug scandal that broke in 2005, which implicated baseball player Barry Bonds, sprinters Tim Montgomery, Chryste Gaines, Kelli White, and others, many of whom admitted to using illegal drugs while competing. Jones vehemently denied using performance-enhancing drugs until her confession in 2007.

A dominant force in women's sprinting, Jones was upset in the 100 m sprint at the 2001 World Championships, as Ukrainian Zhanna Pintusevich-Block beat her for her first loss in the event in six years; Pintusevich-Block was one of the names revealed by Victor Conte during the BALCO scandals. Jones, however, did claim the gold in both the 200 m and 4x100 m Relay.

On her 2004 Olympics experience, Jones said "It's extremely disappointing, words can't put it into perspective." She came in fifth in the Long Jump and competed in the women's 4x100 m Relay where they swept past the competition in the preliminaries only to miss a baton pass in the final race. Jones promised that her latest defeat would not be the end of her Olympic efforts, and reasserted in May 2005 that winning a gold medal at the 2008 Olympics remained her "ultimate goal."

May 2006 saw Jones run 11.06 at altitude but into a headwind in her season debut and beat Veronica Campbell and Lauryn Williams in subsequent 100m events. By July 8, 2006, Jones appeared to be in top form; she won the 100m sprint at Gaz de France with a time of 10.93 seconds. It was her fastest time in almost four years. Three days later, Jones once more improved on her seasonal best time at the Rome IIAF Golden League (10.91 seconds), but lost to Jamaica's Sherone Simpson, who clocked 10.87.

Personal bests

Date Event Venue Performance
September 12, 1998 100 m Johannesburg, South Africa 10.65A
August 22, 1999 100 m Seville, Spain 10.70
September 11, 1998 200 m Johannesburg, South Africa 21.62A
August 13, 1997 200 m Zürich, Switzerland 21.76
April 22, 2001 300 m Walnut, California 35.68
April 16, 2000 400 m Walnut, California 49.59
May 31, 1998 Long Jump Eugene, Oregon 7.31 (23’ 11¾”)

Individual achievements

Year Meeting Venue Place Event Result
1992 IAAF World Junior Championships Seoul, South Korea 5th 100 m
7th 200 m
1997 IAAF World Championships Athens, Greece 1st 100 m 10.83
10th Long Jump
1998 IAAF World Cup Johannesburg, South Africa 1st 100 m 10.65A
1st 200 m 21.62A
2nd Long Jump 7.00A (22’ 11¾”)
1999 IAAF World Championships Sevilla, Spain 1st 100 m 10.70
3rd Long Jump 6.83 (22 ft 5 in)
2000 2000 Summer Olympics Sydney, Australia dq 100 m 10.75
dq 200 m 21.84
dq Long Jump 6.92 (22’ 8½”)
2001 IAAF World Championships Edmonton, Canada dq 100 m 10.85
dq 200 m 22.39
2002 IAAF World Cup Madrid, Spain dq 100 m 10.90

  • The IOC and IAAF stripped Jones of all medals, points and results received after September 1, 2000 after Jones admitted to using steroids prior to the 2000 Summer Olympics.

Top Speed film

Marion Jones was showcased in the film Top Speed, which documents her talent and skill within sprinting. Directed by Greg MacGillivray and shot in IMAX format, it covers details from races to any mistakes she has made within her performances, Marion is profiled amongst other speed specialists like racing driver Lucas Luhr, mountain biker Marla Streb, and Stephen Murkett, one of the designers of the Porsche Cayenne.

Use of illicit performance enhancing drugs

Throughout her entire athletic career—even in high school—Marion Jones had been accused, either outright or by implication, of taking performance enhancing drugs, a common allegation surrounding athletes involved in the sports under the "Track and Field" umbrella. Until 2007, Jones routinely denied—in almost every way possible and in almost any venue where the question arose—ever being involved with performance enhancers in any way, shape, or form. One of Jones's frequent statements in her own defense was that she had never tested positive for performance enhancing substances; in her autobiography, she blamed the 2002 breakup of her marriage to C.J. Hunter in part on the fact that Hunter had tested positive for steroids four times before the 2000 Olympics, tainting her own drug-free image. However, the rumors and accusations that started when Jones missed a random drug test in high school in the early 1990s (Jones claimed she never received the letter notifying her of the required test; attorney Johnnie Cochran successfully got the four-year ban from track and field competition, the penalty for missing a random drug test, overturned) continued to follow her through two Olympiads and several championship meets. Soon, a pattern of Jones choosing to train with both coaches and athletes who were also being dogged by rumors and accusations of performance enhancement drugs began to emerge.

Taint by association

For years, Jones was coached by controversial speed coach Trevor Graham, whose Sprint Capitol running organization in North Carolina has been wracked by drug suspensions and who himself is being investigated by a federal grand jury. For a time, Jones also worked out with renegade Canadian coach Charlie Francis, who admitted providing drugs to Ben Johnson, the Canadian sprinter who tested positive for steroids after setting a world record in the 100 m sprint at the 1988 Games in Seoul. She then worked with Steven Riddick, who has coached other athletes involved in drug scandals, including Tim Montgomery, Myriam Léonie Mani, and Aziz Zakari.

The BALCO investigation

On December 3, 2004, Victor Conte, the founder of BALCO, appeared in an interview with Martin Bashir on ABC's 20/20. In the interview, Conte told a national audience that he had personally given Jones five different illegal performance enhancing drugs before, during and after the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games. In the course of investigative research, San Francisco based reporters Lance Williams and Mark Fainaru-Wada reported Jones had received banned drugs from BALCO, citing documentary evidence and testimony from Jones's ex-husband C.J. Hunter, who claims to have seen Jones inject herself in the stomach with the steroids.

According to Hunter's 2004 testimony before a federal grand jury, Jones' use of banned drugs began well before Sydney. Hunter told the investigators that Jones first obtained EPO from Graham, who Hunter said had a Mexican connection for the drug. Later, Hunter said, Graham met Conte, who began providing the coach with BALCO "nutritional supplements", which were actually an experimental class of "designer" steroids said to be undetectable by any drug screening procedures available at the time. Graham then distributed the performance enhancers to Jones and other Sprint Capitol athletes. Still later, Hunter told federal agents, Jones began receiving drugs directly from Conte.

Jones had never failed a drug test using the then-existing testing procedures, and insufficient evidence was found to bring charges regarding other untested performance enhancing drugs.

2006 EPO tests

The Washington Post, citing unidentified sources with knowledge of drug results from the USA Track and Field Championships in Indianapolis, IN, reported that on June 23, 2006, an "A" sample of Marion Jones' urine tested positive for Erythropoietin (EPO), a banned performance-enhancer. Jones withdrew from the Weltklasse Golden League meet in Switzerland, citing "personal reasons", and once more denied using performance-enhancing drugs. She retained lawyer Howard Jacobs, who has represented many athletes in doping cases, including Tim Montgomery and cyclist Floyd Landis. On September 6, 2006, Jones' lawyers announced that her "B" sample had tested negative, which cleared her from the doping allegations.

Admission of perjury during BALCO investigation

On October 5, 2007, Jones admitted to lying to federal agents about her use of steroids prior to the 2000 Summer Olympics and pled guilty at the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York (in White Plains). She confessed to Judge Kenneth Karas that she had made false statements regarding the BALCO case and a check-fraud case.

She was released on her own recognizance but was required to surrender both her U.S. and Belizian passports, pending sentencing in January. Although a maximum sentence of five years could be imposed, the prosecution has recommended no more than six months as part of Jones' plea bargain.

In the BALCO case, she had denied to federal agents her use of the steroid Tetrahydrogestrinone, known as "The Clear", or "THG", from 1999, but claimed she was given the impression she was taking a flaxseed oil supplement for two years while coach Trevor Graham supplied her with the substance. In a published letter, Jones said she had used steroids until she stopped training with Graham at the end of 2002. She said she lied when federal agents questioned her in 2003 because she panicked when they presented her with a sample of "The Clear".

In a press conference on the steps of the courthouse following her October 5 guilty plea, the disgraced athlete tearfully apologized, saying "...with a great amount of shame...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."

USOC demands return of Olympic medals

Peter Ueberroth, Chairman of the U.S. Olympic Committee, reacted to the news of Jones' confession and guilty plea on perjury charges by issuing a statement calling on Jones to "immediately step forward and return the Olympic medals she won while competing in violation of the rules". Ueberroth added that her admission "is long overdue and underscores the shame and dishonor that are inherent with cheating." IAAF president Lamine Diack said in a statement that, "Marion Jones will be remembered as one of the biggest frauds in sporting history.

On October 8, 2007, a source confirmed that Marion Jones surrendered her five medals from the 2000 Summer Olympics. On the same day, Peter Ueberroth said that all the relay medals should be returned, and on April 10, 2008 the IOC voted to strip Jones' relay teammates of their medals, as well. Jones was ordered by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency to forfeit all awards and medals received after September 1, 2000. The IOC has yet to determine what will be done with the forfeited medals , pending the conclusion of the BALCO investigation.

Formal IOC disqualification

On December 12, 2007, the International Olympic Committee formally stripped Jones of all 5 Olympic medals dating back to September, 2000, and banned her from attending the 2008 Summer Olympics in any capacity. The IOC action also officially disqualified Jones from her seventh place finish in the Long Jump at the 2004 Olympics.

Criminal Sentencing, perjury case

On January 11, 2008, U.S. District Judge Kenneth Karas sentenced Jones to six months in prison and 200 hours of community service for perjury relating to her using of steroids and for a check-fraud scam. She was also sentenced to two years probation following her prison term. Jones reported to the Federal Medical Center-Carswell prison facility in Fort Worth, Texas on March 7, 2008 and was assigned prisoner no. 84868/054. She was released from prison on September 5, 2008.

Check-counterfeiting scandal

In conjunction with the performance enhancing drugs probe, Marion Jones was also under investigation for her involvement in a check-counterfeiting scheme that had already been linked to her former coach, Steven Riddick, her sports agent Charles Wells, and her ex-boyfriend, Tim Montgomery.

Financial troubles

Seven years after winning a women's record five Olympic track and field medals and receiving multi-million dollar endorsement deals, Marion Jones was broke. According to the Associated Press, Jones is heavily in debt and fighting off court judgments, according to recent court records reviewed by the Los Angeles Times. In 2006, a bank foreclosed on her $2.5-million mansion near Chapel Hill, N.C., where Michael Jordan was a neighbor. She was also forced to sell two other properties, including her mother's house, to raise money. In her prime, Jones was one of track's first female sports millionaires, typically earning between $70,000 and $80,000 a race, plus at least another $1 million from race bonuses and endorsement deals.

Alleged involvement in check fraud

In July 2006, Jones was linked to a check-counterfeiting scheme that led to criminal charges against her coach and ex-boyfriend Montgomery. Documents showed that a $25,000 check made out to Jones was deposited in her bank account as part of the alleged multimillion-dollar scheme. Prosecutors allege that funds were sent to Jones' track coach, Steven Riddick, in Virginia, then funneled back to New York through a network of "friends, relatives and associates. Riddick was arrested in February on money-laundering charges. According to the indictment and subsequent documents filed with the court, the link to Jones was made through one of Riddick's business partners, Nathaniel Alexander.

Admission of perjury during check fraud investigation

On October 5, 2007, Jones pled guilty to making false statements to IRS Special Agent Jeff Novitzky leading the ongoing BALCO investigation in California. Jones claimed she had never taken performance-enhancing drugs. “That was a lie, your honor,” she said from the defense table. The Federal Government, through grand juries, had been investigating steroid abuse since 2003.

Jones also pled guilty to making false statements about her knowledge of a check-cashing scheme to New York U.S. Department of Homeland Security Special Agent Erik Rosenblatt, who has been leading a broad financial investigation that has already convicted the father of Jones's child, former world record holder and "World's Fastest Man" Tim Montgomery, sports agent Charles Wells, and her coach, 1976 Olympic gold medalist Steven Riddick.

Criminal Sentencing, check fraud case

On January 11, 2008, Marion Jones was sentenced to 6 months in prison for perjury concerning her involvement in the check fraud case and her use of performance enhancing drugs. She was ordered to surrender on March 11 to begin her jail term.

In legal filings prior to sentencing, lawyers for the defense requested US District Judge Kenneth Karas limit her penalty to probation and community service. Part of their argument was that Ms. Jones had been punished enough by apologizing publicly, retiring from track & field, and relinquishing her five Olympic medals. Lawyers for the prosecution had suggested any sentence between probation and six months would be fair (with the maximum penalty being five years in prison). Judge Karas sought advice as to whether he could go beyond the six-month sentence suggested by the prosecution.

During the sentencing hearing, Judge Karas admonished Ms. Jones in the courtroom, stating that she knew what she was doing and would be punished accordingly. "The offences here are serious. They each involve lies made three years apart," said Judge Karas, also adding that Jones' actions were "not a one-off mistake... but a repetition in an attempt to break the law.



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