So Marion Jones has finally come clean. Well, sort of. I must admit that I was one of the people who believed every one of her lies over the past five or so years. I remember getting into arguments about it with friends. No, I would say, Marion never used drugs. She was always good. She was a sprint goddess in high school. Someone that good doesn’t even need to take drugs.
In her public confession in New York on October 5th, she admitted to taking the designer steroid known as “the clear” for two years, and that it helped her in her quest to win five gold medals at the Sydney Olympics in 2000. She came away with three golds and two bronzes in those Games, and became that rarity of all rarities — a track superstar. A track athlete whose name and face were recognizable by the average American citizen.
But what Jones hasn’t admitted, neither in her public confession nor in the letter she wrote to family and friends a day earlier, is that she knowingly took performance-enhancing drugs. In her letter, she puts all the blame on her coach at the time, Trevor Graham. It was Graham, she says, who supplied her with the supplement that he told her was “flaxseed oil,” and poor innocent Marion, totally trusting of her coach, didn’t realize she was being fed PED’s until after she had won boxes of medals and millions of dollars. That’s a tough pill to swallow, pardon the pun. But I can’t see how you can take a supplement for over a two-year period, feel its positive effects on your strength, speed, and stamina, and not realize it’s illegal.
If you haven’t had a chance yet to read Game of Shadows, check it out. The book, written by San Francisco Chronicle journalists Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams, provides details of Jones’ drug use leading up to and during the Sydney Games. There, a much different story is told. The book leaves absolutely no doubt that Jones knew exactly what she was taking, that she was taking plenty of other PED’s in addition to the “flaxseed oil,” and that she was injecting herself with human growth hormone. Even before being introduced to the clear, she was taking the endurance-booster EPO. The book paints an ugly picture. The writers never even address the issue of whether Jones was taking PED’s, or whether she knowingly took PED’s. Instead, they go straight to the heart of the matter — explaining when, where, why, and how she took the drugs.
When I first read the book I was skeptical. Not because the claims sounded false, but simply because I believed in Marion Jones. She was a nice person, and seemed to genuinely understand what it meant to be a role model. She seemed humble. I remember once around 2001 I saw her practicing her start at NC State University in Raleigh, and a jogger realized that he had cut into the lane where her blocks were set. When the man realized what he had done, he jumped out of the way and apologized, looking very startled. “I didn’t mean to get in your way,” the man said. Marion responded with a nervous, almost embarrassed chuckle, and said something to the effect of, “You don’t have to get out of my way. You have as much right to be out here as I do.”
Another time, she came out to practice the morning after a national high school championship meet had been held at NC State. A scorer’s table had been left in the middle of the track. I was out there with one of my athletes who was warming up, when Marion asked me to help her move the table. So I did. She picked up one end, and I picked up the other, and we moved it to the infield. I remember telling my athlete right afterward, “Hey man, I just helped Marion Jones move a table. I’m large.”
When I think of Marion Jones, those are the memories that most clearly stick out in my mind. She just seemed so cool. And it’s hard to believe that what I was seeing was a mirage.
As for Graham, any athlete associated with him is suspicious. I think it’s fair to say that if you were ever coached by Trevor Graham, then there’s legitimate reason to believe you may have used PED’s. If you were coached by Graham and won a medal in a major championship meet, then the chances that you used PED’s increases by a few hundred percent. He has his own trial coming up in late November, but Jones’ letter, even if was a partial confession consisting of partial truths, leaves no doubt that Graham is a dirty coach. Based on the things written about Graham in Game of Shadows, Graham was a money-hungry opportunist who saw a chance to strike it rich with an exceptional athlete, so he went for it. Which is a shame, because the man truly is a brilliant sprint coach.
Right about now, Justin Gatlin’s massage cream alibi for his positive steroid test last spring sounds a whole lot weaker, not that it sounded strong to begin with. But who’s gonna believe that someone coached by Graham and who won gold medals and set world records was sabotaged by a rogue massage therapist? At this point, I would assume no one.
What a mess for the sport. If you love the sport, you’ve gotta be pissed at Marion for not coming clean sooner. She played us. At least Ben Johnson had the decency to get busted the day after winning his gold medal. Marion went and waited seven years before letting us know the truth. Victor Conte, the sleazeball chemist at the forefront of the whole BALCO scandal, said yesterday that Marion shouldn’t have her medals stripped from her because most of the people she was running against were using PED’s too. At this point I don’t doubt it. I despise Conte for the role he has played for ruining the credibility of the sport, but I now believe everything he says when it comes to athletes using drugs.
So again we look to the younger generation to provide us with salvation. Tyson Gay, please be clean. Allyson Felix, please be clean. Sanya Richards, please be clean. Xavier Carter, Kerron Clement, Wallace Spearmon. Succeed where your forerunners have failed. Kids are watching, and they want to be just like you.