Why You Shouldn't Believe Marion Jones (22)

Story by Eric.

(This is the 22nd part of a long series titled, "Why You Shouldn't Believe Marion Jones". This series depicts the life and times of a (former) woman sprinter whose lies and cover-ups about doping in sport continue even through this day.)

Marion Jones was afforded – and exercised her right to – a medical red-shirt during her third season of basketball in 1996, and returned to her former track and field coach, Mason, to begin training for a spot on the XXVI Olympiad team to be held in Atlanta, Georgia. Marion Jones had a likely opportunity in 1992 to compete in the 4x100m rounds, but abandoned the Olympic relay pursuit in favour of an opportunity, she says, to “earn” her medal(s). She’d hoped in 1995 to pursue a spot on the 1996 200m team alongside Gwen Torrance.

Marion Jones, however, missed the entirety of the 1996 track and field season – following an enduring spring season the previous year in which she did not contest a major 100m finals event – after re-breaking her foot four months after her first break. Two years had now elapsed since Marion Jones – a woman who would, several years thereafter, be featured in campaigns for exclusive watches, credit cards and automobiles, and grace the covers of several prominent magazines, including the September 11th edition of Time Magazine in 2000 [1] – began her first split basketball/track and field season, with no determination to fasten her attention to her first love, track and field.

Marion Jones concluded her collegiate basketball career in March, 1997 – leading her women’s team to a fourth-straight ACC title, being named ACC MVP, and finishing with a career 16,8 points/game scoring average, a statistic which ranked 3rd all-time at North Carolina at Jones career end [2].

North Carolina collected 92 wins against 10 losses during Marion Jones four-year tenure at the university – three years in which she competed for the team (1994, 1995, and 1997). Marion Jones, after a loss to George Washington University in the NCAA “Sweet 16” round, made the most improbable and most superhuman adaptation ever known to the athletics world.

To brace for the whirlwind which would follow Marion Jones’s immediate and explicit impact on the athletics world the 13 following weeks and beyond would have taken an exercise of unshakable, unadulterated faith so durable, that God, Himself – hand-in-hand with his greatest disciples – would have had trouble convincing his wordsmith, Moses, to remain on Mt. Sinai to dictate the results under such circumstances as these.

Conversely, an exercise of simple blind faith with an expectation of past performances – very distant former generation ones – acting as catalysts for her return to success, could also have been used in defence of her quick ascension, as the Tarheel Daily, an independent newspaper not affiliated with her university, stated in a syndicated article carried on their internet site.

The idea that Jones started using steroids to run fast isn't believable when you look closely at her history. As a 16-year-old girl, she was invited to run on the U.S. Olympic 4x100 relay team after finishing fourth at the trials in the 200 meters and fifth in the 100.

Just remember, she was competing against women 10 and 12 years older, people who had been training year-round during that time period and building stronger bodies along the way.

She still holds the U.S. record for a female in high school in the 200 meters.

So there is no reason to think Jones needed drugs to run fast. Nature endowed her with the perfect body for this endeavor. She is 5-11, 150 pounds, which is significantly bigger than most of the women she has always competed against.

They, along with many others employing this same rationale as mentioned earlier, could not have been more wrong.

This arresting, personal development in Marion Jones’s life provoked extra speculation from onlookers “outside of the know”, as it contained the sniff and smell of being an illogical, express transition from prudent and accomplished has been status to an untouchable – one which emerged and bore fruit in the very preposterous span of 13 weeks time.

Even Charlie Francis, the outcast coach with whom Marion Jones had briefly trained, had this to state about talent development expectations:

Well, nobody just comes out of the box and performs at gold medal level. It just doesn't happen by chance anymore. Everybody is a creation of a program, of training, of systems, etc. A minimum of five to eight years of correct training is required before an athlete's potential becomes apparent.” [4]

Employing a strictly numbers-oriented recapitulation at the adult career kick-off Marion Jones had in March, 1997, the alert reader can more logically conclude that Marion Jones, the former high school phenomenon who had sidelined full-time track for a share of the NCAA basketball limelight – and, subsequently, was assiduously removed from track – transcended the plausible capabilities governing the natural human body, and made an unreasonable quantum jump upon her immediate return to the track and the sand box under Trevor Graham’s illicit supervision – one which she later stated included taking performance-enhancing drugs at a time after this exodus and transformation between the old and new Marion Jones.

Other perceptive readers who’d eluded the temptation of casting the first stone, who’d been slow to speak and had been quick to listen may also have had deduced on facts alone that Marion Jones’s improvement – after an exceedingly lengthy time away from the elite ranks – raised serious questions concerning an athlete’s finite ability to manage this feat against a fortified wall of competitive odds.

Some of those suspicions were later addressed on 2007-October-4 when Marion Jones stated to family members that she’d had an aid throughout a portion of her career.

When the last round orange ball was rounded up, and the final season accolades were dispensed in 1997, Marion Jones revealed to her basketball coach, Sylvia Hatchell, private plans to forego her remaining basketball eligibility to concentrate on track – in disciplines she had not succeeded in personally since high school.

Marion Jones exchanged her basketball shoes for track spikes as she was introduced to Trevor Graham by her fiancé, C.J. Hunter, at the practice track during the spring. Graham is stated to have begun working on long jump technique adjustments and angle-of-block adjustments – simple modifications to Marion Jones’s form and approach which, in Graham’s opinion, were to have yielded immediate, positive conclusions.

Graham and Jones began observing immediate “results”.

Looking across the track that morning, Graham was thunderstruck. “I thought, Oh, my god, Marion Jones,” he says. It was as if Graham were a physics tutor and little Stephen Hawking had walked into his classroom. When Hunter called out, “Trev, what do you think?” Graham replied, “Mind if I fix something?” He made one small adjustment, then another, and Jones instantly ran faster and smoother. “It was, like, automatic results,” she says. “That had never happened to me. Trevor changed little things, like the angle of my blocks or the way I carried one arm, and I improved immediately.”

Pre-Graham, Jones had run a wind-aided 11.51 at the Florida Relays. Three weeks later she ran a legal 11.37 [as well as long-jumped 21'8"/6,60m], followed in succession by a wind-aided 11.19 and 10.97. The phone started ringing with offers from meet promoters in Europe. Basketball was dead for 1997, buried beneath the sudden possibility of a cascade of gold medals and world records, and far greater earning power than the WNBA or ABL could offer. [5]

Fewer than 13 weeks after Marion Jones stepped on the track to focus on her future, she won the first of two individual USA National titles that season – and only two months after teaming up with Graham, deciding to leave basketball, and seven months after re-breaking a foot she had only broken four months prior to that.

Not only did Marion Jones win the USA Outdoor Championships at Indiana University – her first professional titles (running 10,98, 10,92 and 10,97 in the prelims, semi-final and final – the three fastest-times in the world up to that point, and defeated Jackie Joyner-Kersee, the 1988 Olympic champion and eight-time national champion, by an inch in the long jump with a 22-9 (6,93m) leap – a career best and another best mark in the world up to that point in the season), she amassed 11 sub-11,00 non-windy 100m races and ran the =5 all-time 100m mark (10,76) in world history later the same season.

This, folks, was meant to be without “the clear”.

Said Joyner following the long jump series:

I'm very glad to see someone like Marion. To have young athletes coming up who are not immature in their actions on and off the field lends a lot of credibility to track and field.” [6]

Marion Jones accomplished all of these feats – significant in their own rights in exclusion of one another – after undergoing a miraculous body transformation from basketball player to elite sprinter during that short build-up time.

She stepped through a transition period which saw her return to her roots, sprinting, with a victory in Gainesville, Florida (11,37 with a +1,5 m/s) on 19-April. She’d run much faster as a prep student, but was determined to see if the changes Graham made on her starting angles and block positions would have a positive effect.

Three weeks later in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, it appeared as though those adjustments did produce a desired effect, as she followed her Gainesville run with an 11,19 victory – a mark she hadn’t approached in five years when she ran 11,14 at the California State Championships – a mark which broke the World Youth best for 16-year-olds. She capped things off with her new coaching guru with a windy 10,97 (+2,3 m/s) on 1997-May-24 at the Gatorade Classic in Knoxville, Tennessee. Graham and Marion Jones were on to something, little did we know Marion Jones was also on something which she applied under the tongue.

The New York Times printed an article two years earlier (1995-February-17) which discussed Marion Jones’s basketball and track exploits, and quoted Marion Jones as stating she would like to make the 1995 World Championships in the long jump, as she lacked work in the sprints. Marion Jones had four months of potential preparation before the USATF Championships, yet felt her best bet would be to concentrate on the long jump.

Our track team has a chance to do something in the N.C.A.A. championships, she said, so I may run both sprints and a relay and also long jump. Then I'd like to make the world-championship team, probably in the long jump because I have so much natural ability there and I lack work in the sprints.” [7]

If it may it please the court of public opinion to provide a simple recount for those of you who may be suffering the partial illness known as “some timers” disease, let it be known that:

Marion Jones was a young woman with top-25 world-ranked 100m/200m times in high school who made a decision to divide her interests between basketball and her two premier events during her first two years of university competition. Marion Jones remained connected to a semblance of success by using “natural talent” in the long jump to climb out of a relatively disastrous first two full years at North Carolina.

[1] Time Magazine, “Marion Jones wants to win five gold medals. Can she do it?”, 2000-09-11
[2] UNC Athletics, “Hamm, Jordan Named ACC’s Greatest Athletes”, 2003-03-13
[3] TarHeelDaily.com, “Did She or Didn’t She? Marion Jones Has A Long Road...”, 2004-07-14
[4] Testosterone Nation, “Rocket Scientist – An interview with Charlie Francis”
[5] Sports Illustrated, “Marion Jones: The Fastest Lane”, 2000 Feature
[6] The New York Times, “Long-Jump Title Caps Jones’s Double”, 1997-June-16
[7] The New York Times, “Women’s Basketball; Sitting on the Top of Two Worlds,” 1995-02-17

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