Story by Eric.
(This is the fourth installment in a long series on Marion Jones, titled: "Why You Shouldn't Believe Marion Jones").
Through the forum allowed by this blog series, you are now ready to embark on a passage together with others who are seeking true closure in this case and to move on toward further enjoyment of this sport – no longer impeded by Marion Jones’s denials of wrongdoing, and one in which she is no longer employed.
There are those of you who have already asked yourself, “why bother,” because she’s already paid for her lies by spending time in prison and getting stuck with a hefty community service responsibility following her release.
There is a tendency by many to close the door on Marion Jones and simply believe this blog series is an attack on a woman whose time has already been served.
My enjoyment of this sport has never been higher than over the past decade, and that may be one reason why I have steadfastly pursued the topic of performance-enhancing drugs. I never set out on a purposeful, dedicated course from my little corner of the world to write more than a few paragraphs on an internet message board regarding my belief that Marion Jones was a doped athlete who also lied about it and abused her sport, and thought I’d rested my case on Friday, 2006-August-18, “The Day Track Died” according to one American track and field poster on an athletics message board.
Regarding Marion Jones, and later BALCO, one hind-sighted thought after another about her led me to an epiphany: there was no natural way on the earth that a woman several years removed from the core of the sport could have accomplished her lifetime achievements on natural willpower, drive, determination, work ethic and right opportunity alone in such a short period of time. She had to have received help – an unnatural one which would scream “ban me if found” along the way.
I’d wondered why no one had discovered this earlier.
That sudden intuitive leap of understanding fell right into my lap, and I was not slow in voicing my opinion on the matter – taking up valuable space on a bulletin board to point out some simple facts, which, when viewed from a logical and outer perspective, made conclusive sense in light of the circumstances accused cheats had once stated. Few believed, because they afforded a very low belief factor to one who cheats but who may actually have a possibility of being able to tell the truth (i.e.: Dwain Chambers).
That voice resounded so greatly that one began to assume that all I had to discuss in general on that message board was Marion Jones, a “dead” BALCO story, and one moderator told me I was polluting his board with stories of such – though in reality, a minimal number of my posts were related to any drugs stories at all.
My defensive exchange of on-line bulletin board messages with one particular die-hard Marion Jones supporter spurned on my research, with me having fortified my position and arguments against his by supporting them with unmovable facts and figures, times, marks and places Marion Jones had accomplished under various periods of her athletics career – periods now stated by admission to have included being drug periods, though one knows through intuition and experience that her voyage down this path of deceit began much earlier than so.
Those professional times and marks would later prove to be impossible for her to have achieved in the absence of consistent opportunity and active participation in an event which demands perfection, and one which is based on power and an intricate level of timings. My having also openly questioned alliances, practices and statements she and her lawyers made touched off a complete and utterly irreversible spat of rage from this supporter, and provided me another key element upon which to further regard the phenomenon behind her deeply-rooted fan support.
What began as a random thought evolved into a strong supporting belief that Marion Jones was, actually, a doped athlete when she transitioned back into the sport in the spring of 1997, though she eventually was only stripped of honours achieved on or after 2000-September-1.
Following up a barrage of quotations and defences from her supporting cast – her attorneys and managers – led me to understand that Marion Jones had never taken a pro-active step in her professional life to distance herself from the possibility that associations with known cheats could – and would – send a negative message to the world and render ineffective her strong and vocal stance on the topic, namely that she was a proponent of a drug-free sport.
The fact that neither her governing body nor USADA had chosen her as an anti-doping ambassador – with she, Marion Jones, being one of her nation’s greatest marquee names to ever participate in the sport and never having had failed a drugs test – spoke volumes on her credibility without having to have made an utterance on the subject.
Those supporting beliefs turned into a mini-crusade of sorts whereby I began to tackle on Marion Jones’s apologists’ own beliefs in her innocence when all the circumstantial evidence began suggesting that she was, indeed, never far from the foul line.
The struggle to prove her guilt was not as difficult for me to prove theoretically as it was for those who attempted to defend it based solely on a lack of physical evidence. The souring point between my crusading and their defending came to pass when I disclosed property matters concerning Marion Jones’s estates – a topic which threw her supporters off balance and over the edge. I was made an outcast and my motivations for discussing performance-enhancing drugs was deemed to be a fix I needed to make it through the days and nights, weeks and months until someone high up the food chain was to fall from grace.
Folks accused me of making and holding to slanted assumptions about Marion Jones and telling half-truths – the exact same thing which I had been accusing Marion Jones of doing. Friday, 2007-October-05, was a day of redemption of sorts, as much of my speculation had turned into truth when one of the persons being investigated in this story, Marion Jones, unveiled part of the secret she had been harbouring.
I didn’t revel in her moment of truth, however, as I kept to myself and quietly finished this blog series; hers was a half-truth, and, by definition, not fully the truth as it turns out.
One personal challenge I’d faced over the course of the year to help free fans of the unreasonable beliefs they’d held of superstar athletes like Marion Jones doing the improbable and implausible with the limited resources they had available had been a difficult and tense task to undertake at times, costing me many an hour of heated debate – even amongst friends.
There had been supporters of my “cause” as it may be – people who tended not to believe that all was as it seemed under the surface of fast times, excellent marks and out-of-the-blue performances which are meant to jaw-drop and inspire us. There were those who, in their own rites, had expressed less than cautious optimism over the implausible, and they, too, had been deemed cynics and non-believers.
Being unable to walk a block – or even a few metres – in Marion Jones’s shoes, I’m not qualified to be on par with her; I have never been to an Olympic stadium filled with tens of thousands of admirers chanting my name and holding their collective breath whilst I put my spikes into a set of starting blocks used to push off and thrust me forward in my drive to the finish line, nor have I jetted planes between continents to run in a world championships competition.
I don’t have the slightest idea what pressures faced an (ex-) athlete like Marion Jones at the highest level, nor will I ever pretend to bear such comprehension. The closest I’ve gotten to the top is vicariously through two friends along my walk in life – one who made an Olympic final, the other who made his nation’s team, but not the Games’ qualification standard in his middle distance event.
It is for the love of this sport in its purity and for the friendships gained by sharing in this sport with others closely following across the world that I had taken one topic and spent the greater part of two years of my life attempting to put closure to a systematic belief that when someone does the implausible, there’s likely a compelling reason that the time, distance or mark – including success in chasing five Olympic gold medals – had never been accomplished before.
EPO testing gave me an exclusive opportunity to jump-start this series.
Marion Jones’s confession provided me an opportunity to finish writing this part of a dark history shared between her and the sport which so dearly paid her excellent wages and generous bonuses.
I, like many of you, watched the news trickle in from one major international paper to another – from seasoned journalists putting in their humble opinions to fresh graduates hoping to spring their careers into fast-forward – following Marion Jones’s “A”-test positive – with syndicate stories making their waves in local markets where athletics has likely only been discussed once every four years when the big machine called the Olympic Games makes its way on the television set and one cries when they hear their national anthem.
I’d initially set up an RSS news alert to collect and select information which contained the name “Marion Jones”, and the news poured in with one teaser headline after another – some more sensationalistic than were others – when she confessed of being a drugs cheat.
One thing was for certain with respect to the news, however: someone twice leaked sensitive information about Marion Jones – once in the form of a drugs test, the following as a brief letter she’d written to family and close friends, and the reporters of news wanted us to know, though not necessarily about the source of the leak, rather what was leaked.
I watched, judged and waited patiently for two weeks following the “A”-sample analysis leak before the “B”-sample was completed, with the contrasting results revelation an apparent wipe-out to my few paragraphs on the subject I had begun to discuss through writing of Marion Jones being a “guilty” athlete.
I was relieved when the “A”-sample test was revealed, despite its manner, insofar as Marion Jones would finally be forced to come to terms with the innuendos, the rumours, the testimonies and the bad choices from the past – something at which she had become adept at out-sprinting from the get-go.
However, as her luck had proven to be her best ally during any of her previous ordeals, no mea culpa was to be heard as Marion Jones’s “B”-sample result would look to dash the hopes many had on her being a proven doped athlete.
Insofar as Marion Jones spoke in her own defence on a television programme aired nationally in the United States and linked internationally on several internet sites, the “B”-sample result would not prove to be the deal-breaker which would send me onward to better days, rather the springboard into looking into the totality of her statements, and adding up the sum of the parts to make a conclusive opinion of the whole.
In considering the “A”-sample taken, I thought about the doping control officer who escorted Marion Jones around following her 100m dash in Indianapolis, and what feelings they had when they learned an athlete in their care and custody of such magnitude would test positive for a banned substance taken no more than 60 minutes after they assumed responsibility to ensure she made it safely and timely to the doping control point.
I’ve worked on two doping control crews at major championship events, and have an affinity with the doping control process. Each and every athlete whom I have escorted from their event to the drug screening stations has been a pleasure to work with, and had given me no reason to believe that perhaps an hour after I left them in the custody of the doping control agents, they would leave a marker – or series of markers – which would trigger a positive drug evaluation.
That was until after Marion Jones tested positive at the USA Championships – of which I had been nine time zones ahead. Someone in my same position escorted an athlete who would wind up testing positive and testing the system – all unbeknownst to the volunteer who was enjoying the shadow affording their own 60 minutes of fame – a point which struck home to me.
There were fleeting times I had felt as though I’d had an inkling of genuine heart-felt compassion for Marion Jones and had actually soul-searched deep within to ask myself if my own motivations for digging up the past and re-hashing information about the Victor Conte-types of the world and about her finances would do more harm than good not just to her, but to the sport of athletics.
Open debate along with discussion upon discussion led me to fruitless conclusions with those who supported her, with the thrust of those conversations being that one could not trust a liar, a crook and a thief in Victor Conte, CJ Hunter or anyone else whose manipulated a system for their own gain and then turned on Marion Jones when they were exposed.
Yet Marion Jones would admit to having lied, and would turn on Trevor Graham for her personal gain (attempting to stay out of prison) when she was exposed. Tim Montgomery, who set a world record whilst he was her live-in boyfriend, would do the same to Marion Jones under similar circumstances, though in a completely unrelated case to Graham’s.
There were times I contemplated over the fact that if so many people believed so strongly, my insistence on her guilt could simply have been my projecting guilt on her rather than the evidences doing that for me – despite the preponderance of evidence which supported my rationalisation.
Notwithstanding, my role and responsibility in this journal of accounts has always been to look closely at evidences I’d discovered and to analyse them against logic and judgments made by others on either side of the fence. Once I drew conclusions in my mind, it was on to sticking to that resolution and not compromising my decisions for anyone that success in telling this story would come about. Having done so, I was able to hold course due north and come to the finish line under Marion Jones’s, Trevor Graham’s and my own power.
(This story's forward will continue through two more blog entries)