Running Jones risks losing medals for rest of 4x100 team
Posted: Saturday August 21, 2004 6:15PM; Updated: Sunday August 22, 2004 1:16PM
The United States has a potential relay problem. Gail Devers has a potential relay solution. It makes more sense than most arguments in the murky world of track and drugs.
Background: U.S. women's head track and field coach Sue Humphrey has strongly suggested that Marion Jones will run in the 4X100-meter relay this weekend. It has been strongly suggested to Humphrey that using Jones on the relay might present a problem, because while Jones has never tested positive for any banned substance, she has been interviewed by federal investigators in the ongoing BALCO case and just before the Olympic Games opened, two newspapers reported that Jones's ex-husband, C.J. Hunter, told investigators that Jones took banned substances before and during the Sydney Olympics in 2000.
Further background: In those same 2000 Games, the U.S. men's 4x400-meter relay won a gold medal, but one of the relay members, Jerome Young, was later revealed to have tested positive for a banned substance before the Games. The governing body of international track and field has voted to strip not just Young, but all relay members of their gold medals. The case is under appeal.
Last week Humphrey dismissed the possibility that running Jones is a risk that could potentially cost an entire relay team its Olympic medals if she is later found to have used banned substances. "All I've is heard is gossip and rumors, and I don't deal in gossip and rumors,'' said Humphrey.
It is clearly a grey area. There's a lot more out there than gossip and rumors. Jones is innocent until proven guilty, but the Young case shows that painful collateral damage can result from running an athlete in a relay who later is found to have tested positive or used drugs. To wit: Michael Johnson might lose a gold medal because of Jerome Young.
After failing Saturday night to reach the finals of the 100 meters, an event she won in Barcelona and Atlanta, Devers said, "I would not want to be the coach, there's a lot on her shoulders. And no, you don't want what's happened to the 2000 relay to happen. Then it comes down to the athlete.''
Devers pointed to the example of Kelli White, who won the world championship last summer in the 100 and 200, but then tested positive for the banned stimulant modafinil. White pulled out of the 4x100 relay. She later admitted taking the designer steroid THG and received a two-year ban. Had she run on the relay and won medals, they would have been stripped, just like hers in the sprints.
"She didn't want anything to happen to the relay,'' said Devers, who only ran the 100-meter hurdles in Sydney. "I thought that was a good thing. It might come down to the athlete.''
White knew last summer that she was using THG. Did she know she might get caught? She's never said. But she had to know that if she did get caught, the relay would go down with her. She did a very unselfish thing at a very difficult time in her life. If this were to happen again? "A lot of people would look at the coaches and question them,'' said Devers. "But you have to look at the athlete. If she knew it, why would she run?''
Full disclosure here: Devers took a 100-meter spot here that was vacated by Torri Edwards when Edwards received a two-year doping suspension. (Devers finished fourth at the U.S. Olympic Trials). If Devers had not taken the spot, it would have gone to Jones, who finished fifth at the Trials. "I prayed on it, and made my decision,'' said Devers, who ran despite a left calf injury. So there is tension in the Devers-Jones dynamic. However, the coaches should have long decided that it was too risky to run her. Failing that, like Devers said, it comes down to the athlete. In this case, that athlete is Marion Jones. She has repeatedly denied using performance-enhancing drugs, and if she is clean, there is no issue. But she must understand that there is a possibility that she will be sanctioned, based on the accumulated evidence and the creation of the ``non-analytical positive.''
In truth, she doesn't have to admit to using drugs. She can simply cite her struggles to get fit, the importance of the long jump or some nagging (real or created) injury. Just like that. Everybody is safe. If the relay runs a little more slowly without her, so be it. A bronze or silver that's kept is better than a gold that's given back.