Olympic Champion Marion Jones Admits Steroid Use Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Olympic track star Marion Jones admitted in court to having lied to federal investigators in 2003 about her use of performance-enhancing drugs and about her knowledge of the involvement of a former boyfriend and former coach in a scheme to cash millions of dollars worth of stolen and forged checks. Jones was jailed and ordered to forfeit her Olympic medals.

Summary of Event

Marion Jones was the premier female runner of her generation. In 1997, after a four-year absence from track-and-field competition and after only a few months of serious training, she won the U.S. championship in the 100-meter sprint. That victory earned for her instant recognition as the fastest woman in the world. During the next season, she participated in a world tour that was unprecedented for its ambition. She entered meets at a frenzied pace, returning home just long enough to become the first woman in fifty years to win three events at the U.S. championships in New Orleans, Louisiana. [kw]Olympic Champion Marion Jones Admits Steroid Use (Oct. 5, 2007) [kw]Jones Admits Steroid Use, Olympic Champion Marion (Oct. 5, 2007) [kw]Steroid Use, Olympic Champion Marion Jones Admits (Oct. 5, 2007) Olympics;track and field Olympics;doping Olympics;2000 Jones, Marion Hunter, C. J. Montgomery, Tim Conte, Victor Olympics;track and field Olympics;doping Olympics;2000 Jones, Marion Hunter, C. J. Montgomery, Tim Conte, Victor [g]United States;Oct. 5, 2007: Olympic Champion Marion Jones Admits Steroid Use[03840] [c]Drugs;Oct. 5, 2007: Olympic Champion Marion Jones Admits Steroid Use[03840] [c]Law and the courts;Oct. 5, 2007: Olympic Champion Marion Jones Admits Steroid Use[03840] [c]Medicine and health care;Oct. 5, 2007: Olympic Champion Marion Jones Admits Steroid Use[03840] [c]Public morals;Oct. 5, 2007: Olympic Champion Marion Jones Admits Steroid Use[03840] [c]Sports;Oct. 5, 2007: Olympic Champion Marion Jones Admits Steroid Use[03840]

In 1998, Jones participated in thirty-seven different running and long-jumping events and won thirty-six of them. By the time the year ended, she held the number one position in the world in the 100 meters, 200 meters, and long jump. She capped off the year by marrying shot put champion C. J. Hunter, a future Olympic athlete.

Marion Jones at an October 5, 2007, news conference admitting that she had used steroids to enhance her athletic performance.

(AP/Wide World Photos)

A charismatic and attractive woman, Jones quickly became a media favorite and one of the most famous female athletes in the world. Reporters and fans speculated that she would win five gold medals—more than any other woman ever in track and field—at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. Jones came close, winning the 100-meter race by the second-widest margin in Olympic history—among both men and women. She won the 200-meter race by the largest margin since Wilma Rudolph’s victory at Rome in 1960. Jones took a third gold medal, as part of the U.S. 1,600-meter relay team. In the 400-meter relay, the U.S. team botched the baton handoff between the second and third legs. Jones made up some ground, but the Americans took the bronze for third place. The long jump, traditionally Jones’s weakest event, left her with a fifth medal, a second bronze. In recognition of her achievements, Jones was named the Associated Press Female Athlete of the Year.

The track-and-field world, as with other sports, had long been dogged by allegations that athletes use performance-enhancing drugs. Jones stated repeatedly throughout her career that she wanted a drug-free sport and that she never used illegal drugs. However, there were persistent rumors that she used drugs. On September 26, 2000, her husband, Hunter, tested positive for steroid use. He was suspended for two years, and then he retired. The couple divorced in 2002. In the autumn of 2003, Jones testified before a federal grand jury in San Francisco, California, that was investigating athlete steroid use and those athletes’ possible connections with a local company, Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative (Balco). The grand jury found a calendar at Balco with the initials “MJ” written on it, seeming to indicate a schedule for steroid use by Marion Jones (“MJ”) in 2001. Hunter also reportedly told investigators that he had injected Jones with banned substances and witnessed her doing the same.

On May 16, 2004, Jones insisted that she was drug free and stated her intent to sue if the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency Anti-Doping Agency, U.S.[AntiDoping Agency, U.S.] barred her from competing in that year’s Athens Olympics without a positive drug test. In August at Athens, Jones finished fifth in the long jump, and her 4 100 relay team failed to finish after a bad baton handoff. By this time, sponsors had begun to drop Jones because of the rumors of drug use.

On December 7, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) opened an investigation into doping allegations against Jones after Balco founder Victor Conte alleged that he supplied her with an array of banned drugs before and after the Sydney Olympics. One year later, on December 13, 2005, an American Olympic sprinter and former boyfriend of Jones, Tim Montgomery, received a two-year ban from the sport based on evidence gathered in the Balco investigation. Jones was now linked to a second athlete convicted of using steroids. (Montgomery and Jones had a son together in 2003.)

Nevertheless, Jones remained adamant that she was drug free. On February 5, 2006, she settled a $25 million federal defamation lawsuit against Conte for damaging her reputation by declaring on ABC’s 20/20 that he supplied her and Montgomery with performance-enhancing drugs. Five days later, the IOC announced that it would continue to investigate whether Jones took illegal substances at the 2000 Sydney Games. On June 23, Jones’s “A” sample from the U.S. Track and Field Championships tested positive for the banned endurance-boosting hormone erythropoietin (EPO), a lab result that could lead to a possible two-year ban from the sport. However, on September 6, Jones’s backup, or “B,” sample came back from the lab negative. She was therefore cleared of any wrongdoing and allowed to return to competition. Observers later noted that it is very rare for a “B” sample to fail to confirm the “A” sample and speculated that any EPO in the “B” sample could have deteriorated beyond recognition.

While she had once planned to compete until she was in her forties, Jones soon declared that she had grown weary of defending herself. She married Barbadian sprinter Obadele Thompson in 2007 and retired to raise a family. However, the steroid scandal would not go away. On October 5, Jones tearfully admitted in federal court that she had used the performance-enhancing drug known as “the clear” from September, 2000, through July, 2001, and asked for forgiveness. She was on trial for providing false statements to federal investigators in the Balco case and in a check fraud case involving Montgomery and her former Coaches;track and field coach, Steven Riddick. Montgomery cashed stolen and forged checks, and Jones had received one of those checks, which was deposited into her checking account but never cleared. Jones pleaded guilty to lying to investigators at the October 5 trial.

In January, 2008, Jones received a six-month jail sentence and was ordered to perform four hundred hours of community service in each of the two years following her release. On March 7, Jones began her sentence at the Federal Medical Center Carswell, located at the Naval Air Station, Joint Reserve Base, in Fort Worth, Texas. Although the facility specializes in medical and mental health services, it also has inmates (including Jones) who do not require such care. She was released on September 5.

Impact

On April 10, after Jones was sentenced, the women who won Olympic medals in 2000 by running relays with Jones were ordered by Olympic officials to forfeit their victories and return their medals. The IOC stripped gold medals from Jearl-Miles Clark, Monique Hennagan, LaTasha Colander-Richardson, and Andrea Anderson. Runners Chryste Gaines, Torri Edwards, Nanceen Perry, and Passion Richardson were ordered to forfeit their bronze medals. The women were not accused of any wrongdoing, but the Jones scandal tainted their victories. However, they refused to surrender their medals, arguing it would be unfair to punish them for Jones’s actions, and challenged the IOC through the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

In July, Jones asked U.S. president George W. Bush to commute her sentence. A commutation reduces or eliminates a sentence but does not remove civil liabilities stemming from a criminal conviction. Doug Logan, the chief executive officer of U.S. Track and Field, publicly opposed commutation because to do so would send a terrible message to youths. Logan added that a commutation would send the wrong message to the international community as well. By cheating and lying, Jones had violated the principles of track and field as well as international Olympic competition. Logan was especially angry that Jones had challenged anyone who doubted her purity, talent, and work ethic, and that she had successfully duped many people into giving her the benefit of the doubt.

Bush did not commute Jones’s sentence, leading some observers to wonder if the harshness of the sentence Jones received, including not receiving a commutation, and the demonizing of her in the media had more to do with race than justice, given that champion black athletes have historically been targets of suspicion and doubt. Olympics;track and field Olympics;doping Olympics;2000 Jones, Marion Hunter, C. J. Montgomery, Tim Conte, Victor

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Cazeneuve, Brian. “Running on Empty: With Funds and Friends in Short Supply, Marion Jones May Face Prison.” Sports Illustrated, January 14, 2008. Details the consequences of Jones’s steroid use and continued deceptions.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Gutman, Bill. Marion Jones. New York: Simon Pulse, 2004. A standard athletic biography that glorifies Jones’s quest to become the fastest woman in the world.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Jones, Marion, and Kate Sekules. Marion Jones: Life in the Fast Lane. New York: Warner Books, 2004. In this heavily illustrated autobiography, Jones discusses Hunter’s steroid use but is not entirely forthcoming about her own involvement with performance-enhancing drugs.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Rapoport, Ron. See How She Runs: Marion Jones and the Making of a Champion. Chapel Hill, N.C.: Algonquin Books, 2000. Standard biography of a champion athlete, written to capitalize on Jones’s success at the 2000 Olympics.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Smith, Stephen A. “Falls from Grace: What Young Black Athletes Should Learn from the Michael Vick and Marion Jones Dramas.” Ebony, January 1, 2008. Magazine feature on Marion Jones and former professional football quarterback Michael Vick and their falls from the top of their respective sports.

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