She hates to cry. Tears are too close to the soul, they could rinse away her strength. Marion Jones was 11 when her beloved stepfather died in 1987, and she didn't weep. She was 21 when she told her North Carolina basketball teammates three years ago that she was leaving them to return to track and field, and on that day the tears came in such uncontrollable waves that it hurt. She didn't like that. "It's hard for me to deal with my emotions," she would say later. "Like the whole crying thing."
It's much simpler for her to smile, to laugh, to fight, to run. Especially to run. Last Saturday night in Sydney, Jones ran as if in a beautiful dream. Slashing with equal parts grace and power through the cool winds that swirled inside the Olympic stadium, she won the 100-meter gold medal that has been awaiting her since she was a teen sprint prodigy. She ran a 10.75 and won by .37 of a second, a greater margin than that of any other women's 100 winner since Marjorie Jackson of Australia in 1952. Jones gave a playful hop after she crossed the finish line and smiled with a glow that lit the air around her. Then she sobbed, spilling droplets in small shudders, a moment of unfiltered joy and a cry she could at last embrace. That moment was everything the Olympic Games can be, yet it was also a last, sweet celebration before controversy rolled in.
Less than 48 hours after Jones's victory, the International Amateur Athletics Federation (IAAF), the world governing body of track and field, announced that Jones's husband, shot-putter C.J. Hunter, 31, had tested positive for a banned substance. Arne Ljungqvist, head of the IAAF's medical commission, told SI on Tuesday that Hunter had tested positive for the steroid nandrolone at the July 28 Bislett Games in Oslo and also on three other occasions during the summer of 2000. Hunter, the 1999 world champion, had been a member of the U.S. Olympic team until he withdrew on Sept. 11, citing his slow recovery from Sept. 3 arthroscopic surgery on his left knee.
On Tuesday morning in Sydney, Jones and Hunter appeared together at a press conference arranged by a Sydney-based public relations firm whose services they had retained. Among those with them at the conference was lawyer Johnnie Cochran, who said, "I'm just here as a friend of the family." Cochran represented Jones in 1993, when she was briefly suspended by USA Track and Field, the governing body of the sport in the U.S., for failing to take a mandatory drug test. Her suspension was overturned. The couple arrived holding hands, and Jones made only a brief statement: "I am here to show my complete support for my husband. I believe that the legal system will do what it has to do to clear his name."
Hunter wept in expressing his innocence and his love for his wife. (No small matter; the often surly, 330-pound Hunter dislikes tears more than Jones does.) "There's not anything anybody could say or do to get me to bring shame on the people I love," Hunter said. "I don't know what happened, I don't know how it happened. But track and field is not that important to me." Hunter said that when he learned of the positive, he told Jones, "I don't know what happened, and I'm sorry." Hunter and Jones also produced a man named Victor Conte, whom they identified as a San Francisco-based nutritionist, and he said that Hunter's nandrolone positive was the result of using dietary supplements. With Cochran watching, Conte's presentation had the staged feel of courtroom expert testimony. Many athletes faced with nandrolone positives in the last two years have made the same defense. Some have won their cases, including 40-year-old Jamaican sprinter Merlene Ottey, who finished fourth in the 100 behind Jones. "Supplements would be an explanation that Hunter could make," said Ljungqvist, "but it's not an excuse in our view. We have told all our athletes that they are responsible for what they take."
The Hunter affair cast a cloud over the track and field competition at the Games and further stained a sport already wrestling with a drug-addled image, whereby every outstanding performance—and performer—is subject to suspicion. "Our sport just took a huge decline, and that's really sad," said Maurice Greene, the flamboyant 26-year-old U.S. sprinter who won the men's 100 minutes after Jones's victory in the women's.
Perhaps more tragically, the findings against Hunter dragged Jones's reputation into the mud with his, even as she looked ahead to this week's pursuit of an unprecedented five gold medals. There was no suggestion that Jones was engaging in doping, but cynics who follow the Olympics can be quick to attach guilt by association. At the Atlanta Games skepticism surrounding the triple gold medalist Irish swimmer Michelle Smith were largely jump-started by the fact that Smith's husband was Dutch former shot-putter Erik de Bruin, who had served a steroid suspension. It isn't fair to Jones, but her brilliant work is now much more suspect than it was before Monday.
In the much larger game of international athletic politics, Hunter's positive test was immediately put in play by IOC officials, who are enraged at the U.S. for what they perceive as grossly ineffective—and possibly corrupt—American drug-testing practices. One highly placed IOC source said that USA Track and Field had failed to disclose 15 of its positive test results since early 1999, some within the last nine months. Ljungqvist had made a similar charge days earlier, putting the number at "12 to 15."
Early on the day that the Hunter story broke in Sydney's Daily Telegraph, IOC vice president Dick Pound of Canada took an extraordinary step for a person in his position and confirmed Hunter's positive test an act that was clearly an attempt to embarrass USA Track and Field. "This is a case that took place in July," Pound later said. "We're hearing about it in September and all we learned from the United States was that [Hunter] wasn't competing. Come on. We've all got to work together to solve this [doping] problem, and the United States should lead the way rather than being led, kicking and screaming, into being part of the solution."
The drug-testing system administered by USA Track and Field is rooted in confidentiality and due process. The organization doesn't reveal names until all appeals have been exhausted. The result is long on fairness but sometimes short on a common sense that the rest of the world can understand. For instance, American 400-meter hurdler Bryan Bronson, who was ranked No. 1 in the world in 1998, tested positive for steroids that same year; USA Track and Field confirmed his two-year suspension only weeks before it expired on the eve of the 2000 Olympic trials. Craig Masback, the former miler who is USA Track and Field's CEO, asserted in Sydney on Monday that his organization is the "world leader" in the area of drug testing. He was referring to the voluminous number of tests that it performs annually but without mentioning the ponderous trail that tests results then follow.