The BALCO investigation of athletes' steroid use has not moved swiftly, yet last week one of the world's fastest women felt it bearing down on her. Lawyers for Marion Jones—who won five medals at the 2000 Olympics and is one of America's great hopes in Athens this summer—didn't dispute a report last Friday that a check for $7350, written to BALCO founder Victor Conte, had been deposited on Sept. 8, 2000. On Sunday the San Francisco Chronicle and San Jose Mercury News reported that Jones and her boyfriend, sprinter Tim Montgomery, had been two of 27 athletes Conte told investigators he supplied with steroids. Conte's lawyer accused investigators of fabricating the information to put pressure on their client. Conte, who pleaded not guilty after being indicted for steroid peddling and money laundering in February, had not named names, the lawyer insisted. Jones's lawyers said she had neither authorized nor signed the check, nor had she used steroids. ( Montgomery also denies using steroids.)
Jones, who testified before a federal grand jury last fall, has been mentioned in connection with steroids before. For a brief time in 2002 and '03 she was coached by Charlie Francis, who had been Ben Johnson's coach when Johnson failed a drug test in 1988. And four years ago her then husband, shot-putter C.J. Hunter, failed four drug tests and was banned for two years. The signature on the check to BALCO reportedly belongs to Hunter.
Jones, 28, now finds herself under more scrutiny as she tries to return to form after having had a baby last June. Recent races suggest she has a ways to go. Though she anchored two winning teams at the Penn Relays last Saturday (page 8), she ran poorly at the Mt. SAC Relays on April 18, finishing fourth in her strongest event, the 200 meters. Her time, despite a tailwind over the allowable limit, was 23.02 seconds—1.18 seconds slower than her gold medal time in 2000. "I'm at a point in my career and in my life where I'm not surprised by anything I read or hear," Jones said. "It's just another thing I have to deal with." If the reports about Conte are accurate, however, Jones faces a long, uphill road to Athens.