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Jones validated by negative `B` test

9 September 2006

By Robert Falkoff


That's the word that jumps to mind in the wake of the news that Marion Jones is up and running again. After all the doping rumors and unsubstantiated speculation that have followed Jones through Olympic glory and beyond, it seemed that there was finally proof in the pudding when her 'A' test for EPO came back positive. But then came word that the backup 'B' test did not detect the banned endurance enhancer, which was worth not only a ticket to race again but a major public image boost for Jones.

"I am absolutely ecstatic," Jones said in a statement released by her lawyers. "I have always maintained that I have never ever taken performance enhancing drugs and I am pleased that a scientific process has now demonstrated that fact."

"Never ever" is a long time. Since her triple-gold performance in the 2000 Sydney Olympics, Jones has been constantly dogged by questions about doping. She was one of the athletes who testified to the federal grand jury investigating BALCO in 2003. Her ex-husband, C.J. Hunter, and Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative founder Victor Conte accused her of using banned substances and Jones denied those accusations.

Jones was once coached by Trevor Graham, who is under the microscope after having been linked to several athletes who have faced doping woes. That list includes Justin Gatlin, who tested positive for testosterone or its precursors and is attempting to get a reduction of his eight-year ban.

Then there's Jones' connection to ex-sprinter Tim Montgomery, the father of Jones' son. Montgomery retired last year after a two-year ban for doping violations.

The irony for Jones is that had the EPO scenario not become a public matter, a big cloud of suspicion would have continued to hang over Jones as she attempts to recapture the best of her glory days. But now that the 'B' test has trumped the 'A' test and cleared Jones, there are some who wonder whether all the previous suspicions were unjust. In some circles, Jones is now a sympathetic figure.

Suddenly, there is talk about whether the overall EPO testing process is valid and why an 'A' test was leaked to the media before the overall process had time to run its course.

With the skeptical eye turning away from Jones and focusing suddenly on test administrators and sports federations, the sprinter is mentally free to pursue her quest for excellence.

Jones, 30, has been building some momentum. She won the U.S. 100-meter championship in June and has three of the five fastest times in the world this year. Her best of 10.91 is second only to Sherone Simpson of Jamaica. If she continues on an upward trend, Jones could again be a candidate for Olympic fame two years from now in Beijing. Unless new developments surface, the doping conversations will be reserved for others, allowing Jones to concentrate solely on her training without an allegation burden weighing her down.

Meanwhile, debates will rage regarding the ramifications of EPO testing.

"I believe there are issues with that test," Howard Jacobs, an attorney for Jones, told the AP. "It's a difficult test. For what I saw on the 'A' sample, it was questionable as to whether it should've been called a positive. I can't say I was shocked that the 'B' came back negative based on what the 'A' looked like."

Jones had to cut short her European circuit schedule when the result of the "A" test leaked out. But that turned out to be merely a blip on the radar screen as a possible two-year ban that could have effectively ended her career was avoided. Jones is up and running again. The validation she has received is a powerful force at her back that could get her going down the track as fast as ever.

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