Track athletes commonly play musical coaches, so it was surprising but not shocking when Marion Jones, who won five medals at the 2000 Olympic Games, announced on Dec. 13 that she was leaving coach Trevor Graham, the architect of her success. After that the story gets strange. Jones said her new coach is Derek Hansen, a Canadian of scant credentials, who would seem underqualified to work with one of the best sprinters in history. Almost immediately rumors began to fly that Hansen is an associate of Charlie Francis, a fellow Canadian coach who in 1989 coordinated the steroid program of disgraced Olympic champion Ben Johnson. That led to Francis's getting a ban from Athletics Canada and made him one of the most notorious figures in track. (In Francis's 1990 book, Speed Trap, he defiantly defends the drug usage, saying it's the only way to keep pace.) Last week a Reuters photo showed Francis stretching out Jones at York University in Toronto (above), lending credibility to the rumors and leading many in track to wonder what Jones is thinking. "You hear the name Charlie Francis, and you think, That's Ben's coach," says two-time U.S. Olympic sprinter Leroy Burrell. "That's not a move I would make. It doesn't seem like a good idea to go to a guy with his reputation."
Francis, who like Jones didn't return calls from SI, may not have changed his thinking on performance-enhancing drugs. In a Sept. 29, 2000, interview with the Web magazine Testosterone, Francis repeatedly suggested that elite-level sprinting was impossible without drugs. "If anyone is clean it's going to be the losers," he said.
"Maybe Marion felt she needed something more in her training," says coach Mike Holloway, who coached Olympic sprinters Dennis Mitchell and John Capel. "We know about the drugs, but Ben Johnson was very sound technically. Maybe Marion thinks that's what she needs." Jones, who was the subject of drug rumors at the Sydney Games when her then husband, shot-putter C.J. Hunter, tested positive for steroids, might get faster with Francis. Perhaps she'll even challenge Florence Griffith Joyner's world record in the 100. Only Jones knows if that's worth the possible damage to her reputation.