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Olympic champion Marion Jones has been called Golden Girl and the World's Fastest Woman, but during an interview with ABC's 20/20 broadcast last Friday, Victor Conte Jr., the man at the center of America's biggest doping scandal, called her a fraud.
Asked if Jones was "a drugs cheat," Conte, who says he helped train her from August 2000 until September '01, responded, "Without a doubt." Citing calendars he said he kept of Jones's training regimen during that period, Conte detailed a program in which Jones allegedly used the then undetectable steroid THG, the endurance-enhancing hormone EPO, human growth hormone and insulin. He also said he watched Jones inject herself with growth hormone in a Covina, Calif., hotel room in April '01.
On Sunday, Jones's camp struck back. "So much of what [ Conte] said and the evidence he offered just plain isn't credible," said her lawyer Rich Nichols. "The calendars he said were Marion's have notations showing [100-meter] times run by men, and for one month he has three different calendars marked in different ways. She has never been in a hotel room with this man." Nichols also said that during the time Conte claimed to be working with Jones, her times were slower than the ones she'd run previously.
Nonetheless Conte's claims prompted Dick Pound, head of the World Anti-Doping Agency, to say he plans to call the IOC to discuss whether Jones should be stripped of the five medals she won at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency said on Sunday it will investigate Conte's allegations.
Little has gone right for Jones since Sydney. During those Games her then husband, shot-putter C.J. Hunter was revealed to have tested positive for steroids four times. Last June, Hunter reportedly told federal investigators that he had seen Jones use THG, EPO and growth hormone. Sprinter Tim Montgomery, Jones's current partner, reportedly told the BALCO grand jury that he used THG and growth hormone. In December 2002 Jones began working with coach Charlie Francis, who admitted after the 1988 Olympics that he had designed the steroid program for Ben Johnson. Jones soon distanced herself from Francis.
For Jones, more than her reputation is at risk. If Conte is telling the truth, she likely perjured herself when she appeared in November 2003 before the grand jury investigating BALCO. Then there's her financial future. Jones has long been a darling of sports marketers, most notably Nike. If any of Conte's allegations are proved true, the shoe giant won't hesitate to dump Jones, two former Nike executives said.
"In track and field your endorsement value is dependent largely on your performance and your clean image," said Steve Miller, a former Nike director of sports marketing who is now the CEO of the Pro Bowlers Association. "At one time Marion Jones had a deep reservoir of public goodwill that she could draw on to weather bad news or bad performances. But it hasn't rained in that reservoir for a long time." --Don Yaeger