IN 1997 Marion
Jones, then 21, seized track and field by its throat, winning the 100 meters at
the U.S. nationals. She was a primal force, tall and strong, graceful only in
her easy dominance. In a way, her emergence was no surprise; Jones had nearly
made the '92 Olympic track team as a high school junior before turning her
focus to college basketball at North Carolina, where she was an All-America.
From '97 to 2000, Jones would dominate track and field like no woman before,
winning five medals (three gold) at the Sydney Olympics. Beloved by track fans,
the media and the You Go, Girl! set, Jones ascended to a place in sports she
shared only, perhaps, with soccer star Mia Hamm.
It all officially
ended for Jones last Friday in a White Plains, N.Y., courtroom, where she
pleaded guilty to lying to federal agents and admitted to using steroids before
and during her Olympic run. ( Jones, who faces up to six months in prison, also
retired from track.) Her drug use was no surprise, even if her unburdening was.
Jones's impassioned denials of steroid use over the years—her high-priced legal
representation has reportedly left her in dire financial straits—rang hollow in
the face of voluminous circumstantial evidence that included damning statements
by BALCO chief Victor Conte and Jones's ex-husband, shot-putter C.J.
confession, however, is incomplete. She admitted only to using steroids
unknowingly, ingesting drops that notorious coach Trevor Graham said were
flaxseed oil. On Monday, Jones announced that she would voluntarily return her
Sydney medals to the IOC, but it remains a half coming-clean. There also seems
to be a disconnect in her time line. She says Graham began drugging her in
1999. In '98, Jones won 35 of 36 competitions in the 100, the 200, the 400 and
the long jump and produced six of the 11 fastest 100-meter times in history.
She was Superwoman—and, she implied last week, she was clean. If that's true,
Jones fell even further than it seems.