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Jones' chance to answer doubters

23 June 2006
www.indystar.com

By Andrea Cohen

In 2004, a Nike commercial featured the company's most recognizable sponsored athletes competing in sports other than their own. Lance Armstrong was in a boxing ring. Andre Agassi was the Red Sox shortstop.

Marion Jones, track and field's biggest name, was a gymnast.

"What if . . . ?" the ad asked.

After all that has happened on and off the track the past couple of years for Jones, the "What if" ad seems particularly fitting.

What if Jones hadn't found herself involved in the same doping scandal that has tainted Barry Bonds? What if she indeed took steroids with her ex-husband, as he alleges? What if she didn't, as she adamantly states?

And most germane to the here and now: What if Marion Jones' comeback is for real?

Jones, 30, was to compete late Thursday in the opening heats of the 100 meters at the AT&T USA Track and Field Championships at IUPUI before storms delayed the events. She'll run in her first round at 11:15 a.m. today.

Win or lose -- and she's done a lot of winning lately -- it will be the latest step in Jones' attempt to restore both her image and her once-spectacular speed.

"I think anybody interested in track and field wants to see what will happen with Marion this week," said Ron Rapoport, a longtime Chicago Sun-Times columnist who wrote a book with Jones, "See How She Runs: Marion Jones and the Making of a Champion," in 2000-01.

"This is a woman who never got beat," he said. "She won 30 races in a row and didn't lose an event. This is just a woman who never lost."

The winning started in high school in California, where Jones won the 100- and 200-meter dashes all four years at the state meet. It continued throughout her collegiate career at North Carolina, and peaked at the 2000 Olympics, where she won five medals, including gold in the 100, 200 and 400 relay.

During the 2000 Olympics, however, Jones' husband, shot putter C.J. Hunter, tested positive for a banned substance. The couple divorced in 2002, and Hunter, who has admitted he used steroids, testified in 2004 that Jones used banned substances at the 2000 Games.

After divorcing Hunter, Jones became involved with sprinter Tim Montgomery. That didn't help her image when, in 2004, Montgomery was served a two-year ban from the sport by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency because of testimony in the BALCO case. Jones was accused as well -- BALCO founder Victor Conte has said repeatedly, including on national television, that he supplied Marion Jones with illegal substances.

Jones is no longer with Montgomery, with whom she has a son. She has adamantly denied the accusations -- pointing out that she has never failed a drug test -- and sued Conte for defamation. The suit was settled out of court.

Though her reputation has unquestionably been sullied, some have come to her defense.

Robert Weiner, the former White House Drug Policy spokesman, recently put out a news release asking track's governing bodies and doping agencies to "lay off Marion Jones, quit harassing her, just let her run."

On the track, Jones also suffered. Whether due to the bad press or a rough recovery from giving birth in June 2003, she failed to medal at the 2004 Olympics. For the past two years, many lucrative and prestigious European meets haven't invited Jones, or any other athletes tangled in the BALCO web (although Jones wasn't running fast enough to contend in those meets, anyway).

But after 11 months off, Jones returned to competition last month in Mexico and won the 100 meters. She has won two more 100 races since, including at a Reebok meet in New York earlier this month.

"There are going to be people who will believe what they want to believe. But I want to keep running," Jones told reporters before that meet. "I believe in a drug-free sport. I used the past two or three years as motivation to start this particular season. When I came back and started training, it was a renewed dedication to be the best."

Rapoport said he has been "stunned" by Jones' struggles on and off the track, and that he does not believe the doping rumors.

To him the question isn't what if, but what now?

"She has always been good at shutting out (distractions)," Rapoport said. "When it comes time to train, she's always been great at that. 'Living in the moment,' she calls it. I think that limit was reached. Now that some of the pressure is off, I'll be fascinated to see how fast she will run."



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After all that has happened on and off the track the past couple of years for Jones, the "What if" ad seems particularly fitting.
What if Jones hadn't found herself involved in the same doping scandal that has tainted Barry Bonds? What if she indeed took steroids with her ex-husband, as he alleges? What if she didn't, as she adamantly states?
And most germane to the here and now: What if Marion Jones' comeback is for real?" target="digg"> Digg



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