Story by Eric.
(This is the 21st 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.)
In the beginning of this inquisition was the word, and the word was with Marion Jones, and it was, according to Marion Jones, a truthful one by which she firmly stood.
Then the word developed just cause to lack meaning, and it began to die.
And then it was resurrected.
And it began dying again.
This transformation continued on a remarkable number of occurrences before the saga of Marion Jones finally discontinued generating interest with those faithful few still watching her on life’s theatrical stage.
Life characters were interchanged, new challenges were presented, but the story remained the same. Relevantly, Marion Jones’s reputation began sinking down into the pit of the discredited with each consecutive showing, and, ultimately, an undeniable, larger-than-life challenge finally caused Marion Jones to show her teeth.
And they are stained.
Braces may have been able to enable her to have had transformed herself into a cosmetic beauty, but given the circumstances in her life, one understands if Marion Jones finds very little reason to smile these days. Then again, she may be laughing inside, knowing that, through the years, she had actually succeeded in scamming her fans, manipulating her body and destroying what little credibility this sport may have held in the public’s opinion – a very potent one when it comes time to sponsor money, advertising and external blood pumped into this sport. Please excuse the pun.
And don’t get me started on those braces. There is not yet enough evidence to support any wildly held assertions that some of the world’s elite athletes – all adults – suddenly begin wearing these cosmetic reinforcements for reasons other than to look pretty when they smile on international television , though that topic makes excellent grounds for conjectural rhetoric.
Read another way, one wonders why a pattern developed between 1997 and 1999 whereby several elite athletes decided to make a fashion statement at nearly the same time, and jumped up on the world scale without any forewarning.
Marion Jones was one of them.
Adrian Wojnarowski, special writer for ESPN.com, summed it up superbly in an article touching on Marion Jones tarnished image:
I will still always remember her sitting in that news conference in Sydney, trying to tell everyone that her husband, C.J. Hunter, could be trusted, that he was a truth teller. He was trying to talk his way out of those positive doping tests, trying to spare America's golden girl guilt by association.
And nearby, there was a stranger to the public standing with them.
His name was Victor Conte.
As it turned out, he was practically part of the family.
So, Jones wanted us to believe Hunter was telling the truth in 2000 when insisting that he was innocent. And then, she wanted us to believe he was lying later when he described how he injected her with steroids during her five-medal performance in those Sydney Games.
He was telling the truth about Hunter in 2000.
But then lying about Jones later, too.
I have a sneaking suspicion the biblical character Matthew was not directing his words of wisdom to Marion Jones – despite her professions of faith in God – with regard to exercising the simplest amount of faith in drugs-peddling expeditions to remove the mountains by way of deception when he wrote the following in his gospel:
“If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, ‘Remove hence to yonder place’; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you.”
I believe he was including youth and innocence, and in this particular case, an irreproachable, 14-year-old precocious schoolgirl undergoing puberty, who, following in the footsteps of Olympians before her, displayed remarkable poise and durability on the track, winning the California State meet in two sprint events her first year of high school. Had she stayed the course and not sought refuge with crooked people and progressed naturally, this story might be about protecting that innocence than it has been about shedding light on her guilt.
That wunderkind was named Marion Jones, a blooming athlete previously interested in tap dancing, ballet, soccer and baseball who pioneered her road to stardom at Rio Mesa High School, following the footsteps of Angela Burnham – a five-time California state sprint champion.
Burnham won the last of her sprint titles in 1989, the year before Marion Jones was to make her exodus from a grade-school prospect to a high school specialist. Marion Jones made an immediate impact on the California high school scene, winning four state titles in her first two seasons – including running an 11,17/22,91w double in 1991.
Marion Jones’s mother, Marion Toler, moved the family north to Thousand Oaks after Jones second year of high school – where the younger Jones matured, became more focused and achieved even greater success under a new, personal coach named Ellliott Mason – Olympic star Evelyn Ashford’s previous trainer.
The Mason-Jones athletics matrimony was mostly harmonious – sparking Jones to set two high school records, and win a total of five more California state titles by the time Marion Jones had run her last race in her green and white uniform – the team colours worn by all Thousand Oaks student-athletes, though it was not without a controversy which was ultimately resolved by the late attorney Johnnie Cochran.
(Cochran, it would later surface, was also present when C.J. Hunter held his press conference in Sydney revealing to the world that he had been accused of taking drugs. There was no shortage of co-incidences between Cochran’s presence in Australia and the staging of the press conference with Marion Jones at her husband’s side).
Marion Jones – holder of two high school records and nine California state titles (Grade-9: 11,67 - 23,71. Grade-10: 11,17 - 22,91w Grade-11: 11,14 - 22,83. Grade-12: 11,61 (-3,1 m/s) - 23,14 (-2,1 m/s) - 22-0,5 (6,71m)) – was a legend in her sport having also garnered the Gatorade Circle of Champions National High School Girls Track and Field Athlete of the Year for an unprecedented third consecutive year by the time she graduated, and she was a precocious 18-year-old with quick feet, a terrific self-confidence and a powerful determination to win.
She was also a young woman who endured an early test of performance-enhancing drugs speculation.
Marion Jones was able to line up in her blocks, set herself in a private focus zone while in the “set” position, and gracefully sprint from 0-100m in 11,14 seconds in 1992 – a time which would endure as the 2nd-fastest California state winning 100m mark - and fastest legal mark - of the entire 20th century.
The only mark achieved ahead of Marion Jones on the all-time California state winning time list was a windy 11,10 (+3,0 m/s) run by Angela Williams six years after Marion Jones high school record, five years after Marion Jones made the legal graduation from girl to woman – though she had been perceived as a woman amongst girls throughout her youth, and one year after Marion Jones returned from her biggest-ever win – “only” the California state championships, oddly enough.
Marion Jones’s achievement of 22,83 over 200m in the 1992 California State Meet edition was the fastest 200m state winning mark of the 20th century, and she capped off a stellar career by running a 22,58 national USA high school record. No one in the history of the sport in the USA at a similar age comparison (14-18) had ever run faster.
Marion Jones won nine (9) CA State titles, and had the opportunity as a teenager to already vie for an Olympic spot. She was named Track & Field News Athlete of the Year in 1991 and 1992. She skipped the Olympic opportunity, but competed in the 1992 IAAF World Junior Championships, placing 5th in the 100m, and 7th in the 200m.
Another missed opportunity she decided to take was the 1993 post-season professional events.
The Los Angeles Daily News reported on 1993-January-19 that Marion Jones was facing suspension from international and national competition for missing a random drug test which was to have been administered at a date in 1992-September.
The Athletics Congress, which was the predecessor to USATF – the governing athletics body in the United States, had reportedly sent a notice to an alternate address where Mason could be reached at Harbor College in Los Angeles, where he was a counsellor. The letter sent to him had required that Marion Jones be tested within 48 hours.
Marion Jones's mother, Marion Toler, told Marion Jones’s Thousand Oaks basketball coach Chuck Brown that she never received the letter, which was reportedly signed for never forwarded it to Mason. The debacle concluded with Cochran – who represented O.J. Simpson in his capital murder trial – successfully fighting for her continued permit to compete.
It was not clear whether or not Marion Jones’s decision to skip the professional season was connected to the drugs testing calamity, or why, having escaped a ban, she decided to hang up the enduring work track spikes required for pursuit of basketball success. One thing is for certain for Marion Jones: it was an omen of things to come.
Marion Jones found the next sequence of her athletics life tumultuous in comparison to her high school career. University fortune, for Marion Jones, demonstrated a very opposite effect than her high school success, seeing Marion Jones not simply veer away from the 100m/200m spotlight during her first year of at the University of North Carolina, but fall into near extinction in those events.
Marion Jones won two individual conference titles – along with a relay gold medal (a 11,67-second 100m victory, a 20-3,75 (6,19m) long jump and a 45,39 4x100m) – as an 18-year-old newcomer to the Atlantic Coast Conference, but could not translate her natural individual sprint talent to university-class realisation.
Marion Jones, the high school 100m record-holder and 18th-fastest 100m sprinter in the world two seasons ago, was now reduced to a semi-final also ran/also competed athlete on the national score sheet. Twenty-four months removed from being the 17th-fastest female 200m sprinter of any age any place in the world, she failed to win a gold, silver or bronze in the 1994 NCAA 200m final, placing fifth.
Marion Jones’s demotion down the athletics food chain continued during her second year as a Tar Heel, with her again failing to qualify for either of her sprint specialities at the 1995 NCAA Championships.
Marion Jones false-started (was expelled from a race for cheating the starting device or official gun after a warning – her warning and ignoring of the consequence of cheating perhaps a prophecy of what lay ahead) in a 100m heat and was unable to defend her title. Marion Jones’s misfortune continued as she pulled out of the 200m final following her having qualified as a finalist. Marion Jones’s saving grace at the 1995 ACC Championships was repeating as long jump champion – an event which she would place fourth in at the NCAA Championships, and 11th at the USA National Championships.
Marion Jones, winner of nine California prep state titles in arguably the most difficult high school athletics federation in the United States, failed to earn a medal of any colour or value in a sprint event after two seasons under Coach Dennis Craddock’s tender. However, in Craddock’s defence, Marion Jones twice brought him an athletics body chiselled for basketball playing, but unfavourable for late-spring athletics sprinting – at least on the level to which Marion Jones was accustomed, and to which Craddock had anticipated.
Craddock would later say that Marion Jones was a role model and a hero to many young people – a person, however, who made some bad decisions after college.
Though Marion Jones had previously split her attention between track and field and the hard court in high school, where her last team, Thousand Oaks, finished 60-4 during her two-year career there, NCAA-level basketball playing required a stronger body and added muscles – a remodelling of a timing machine which had operated wonderfully on all cylinders.
Whereas Marion Jones was as nearly dominant on the high school courts (once scoring 48 points in a single game) as she was on the track surface – being named the 1993 CA Div I Player of the Year, and averaging 22,8 points and 14,7 rebounds that season – she was not the perfect mould for a high-level basketball player needed to win an NCAA championship.
Marion Jones, as a basketball player wearing number 20 on her back, made a great leap into the collegiate ranks in 1994, starting as point guard her first year at Chapel Hill and helped North Carolina win the NCAA championship title; she would go on to score 1.716 points in her three basketball seasons with the Tar Heels, helping them to a 92-10 record. Hatchell would later state that Marion Jones, whom she stated was one of the most coachable athletes she had ever coached in 33 years, was a big part of that championship victory.
The two-sport star athlete named Marion Jones – who had agreed to skip indoor competitions between basketball and outdoor track seasons – proved to have physical limits, and wasn’t made of steel. She broke the 5th metatarsal bone in her left foot while practicing with the USA Basketball team at the World University Games in 1995 and missed the forthcoming occasion of returning to the track in an Olympic year after a couple years of uninspiring efforts. Her plans on competing in the long jump at the USATF Outdoor Championships were placed on hold.