This is the 61st submission in a long series about Marion Jones, a former elite sprinter who won (stole) honour and earned (stole) endorsements, fame and fortune by method of fraud.
This story is being told in its entirety, because Marion Jones is unable to do it herself inasmuch as she is more complicit in the BALCO affairs and her own drug-taking than she has led on.
This entry asks if all that Marion Jones set out to accomplish by method of deception was worth the weight of gold.
Marion Lois Jones was once the fastest kid around town.
Folks who have followed her career since the wee days when she was a precocious 14-year-old remember her spiking one foot into the surface of tracks near them and following with another until her momentum churned and she sped to finish lines ahead of her competition – if it is, indeed, fair to call high school girls running half a second slower than she was “competitors”; there were a lot of other girls like her friend Samantha (Clark) Hollister who ran in the same races as Marion Jones and have memories of lining up on the track at the same time in the same race, and have scrapbooks filled with results which prove that they did run against Marion Jones.
The year before she entered high school, she won eight medals at the USA Youth Championships.
Marion Jones likely also has a lot of scrapbooks filled with memories from her days and weeks and years spent between two
One needn’t be reminded that Marion Jones did demonstrate herself to be an exceptional talent which, when turned into a running machine, would be dangerous and a strong world-record holding candidate – the fastest-ever to sprint from null to 100m in 11-odd seconds with a legal wind captured during those fleeting seconds from the gun to the tape. As a prep senior, she had accomplished more in terms of records and titles than had any of her predecessors. Marion Jones was a woman looking up at the top of the world, and would have had only a few mountains to climb to reach the skyline had she focused on athletics instead of allowing her sport to play second-fiddle to basketball at
Marion Jones was a stellar high school basketball star, but it was not her better of the two sports she played. She had conquered every foe beginning with her 10th-grade track season, and never lost a high school race the three remaining years of her prep career. Her team did lose a few basketball games, and that lack of completion – perfection – may have spurned her interest to compete in the sport in
Marion Jones never relished perfection at North Carolina, but the teamwork employed by five starting individuals and a support cast of substitutions allowed her to taste ultimate success in basketball, and she was once able to take home the coveted NCAA trophy which only one team per season is able to do in a sport which eliminates competitors until two remain – both eager, hardened, tough and exceptionally skillful eyeing the same prize, important national respect and an opportunity to stand on top of the centre podium when the big show concluded following five rounds and a final match.
Marion Jones the track and field star took a long ride in the back seat following her high school days, and, ultimately, in 1997, she, just having graduated from university and green to a newer world than she’d last seen before her re-birth to the sport, was lured by the idea of consciously perfecting herself as an individual again and gaining the fame and positive public scrutiny of wagered when one of her caliber is able to win every race, achieve excellent performances and put together relatively insurmountable win-streaks – all whilst completely under the spotlight of a crowd and class of people completely supportive of her return to a sport where she was, at one time, indeed missed.
She had an opportunity that season – or at any time following her decision to turn professional – to surround herself with people of good character who had something of value to share of themselves with her. Having done so may have altered her entire course of modern history as she knows it – leaving her to enjoy her accomplishments and leave a positive which would continue to have a significant effect on the sport long after she would have departed.
Instead, Marion Jones made several critical mistakes along life’s decision-making path – the genesis of which was taking the easy road to stardom with Trevor Graham’s assistance. She wound along and spiraled further down a slippery slope with Victor Conte and, ultimately, had a reluctant willingness to pass “go” on Charlie Francis – three associations which, when viewed in crystal-clear hindsight, would not put Marion Jones closer to learning good values and leaving a positive legacy, rather be engagements which would link her to one of the most intricately and secretive ploys to scam and deceive this sport has ever witnessed.
Marion Jones’s first coach is connected to a long list of rumours of crimes and her agent has been connected to a crime also committed by both the father of Marion Jones’s son and by her latest coach. Sandwiched in between there at some point nearer the rise than the fall was a criminal conviction her “nutritionist” was handed out – a connection which brought drug allegations from Marion Jones’s first husband, who, in his own right, was conclusively a drugs cheat.
In all, Marion Jones either didn’t know or wasn’t told that shady deals were occurring right under her nose, as she became shocked to have stood by the side of two men who lived under her roof and used drugs, and one who slipped them into her training scheme whilst she hadn’t the slightest idea – or so she said.
Marion Jones won three gold medals in Sydney, Australia, and appeared to have had more weight in stature, fame, glory, marketability, demand and prosperity than any other athlete at those Games; she appeared to capture with her triumphs and attempts at making history a key ingredient which could transcend national borders and make her a cornerstone upon which the sport of athletics could justifiable seek its ambassador, one which the world could easily embrace, and a person upon whom sponsors could pin their sales pitches and ride the wave of popularity Marion Jones had created personally and professionally.
As you know, those medals were captured – stolen – by method of cheating, and the cornerstone which once was Marion Jones had become the greatest fraud in the sport’s history.
How much weight did Marion Jones bear in her three successful attempts to taste gold, touch it – run her fingers along the patterns imprinted on those circular-shaped medallions handed out to those who were declared “victors” on the medal stand?
Did she feel a weight of emotional gratitude for support in front of thousands in the stadium and millions watching simultaneously around the world as language barriers were broken amongst strangers who stood side-by-side holding consecutive-ticket numbers high-fiving one another whilst their girlfriends and wives had tears swell up as they were taken back in the moments as she accomplished her missions? When executives in private suites and open corporate boxes loosened their ties and took a break from numbers crunching and making the world turn round watched as Marion Jones ran around the world in their $700-million stadium?
Heck no is the prevailing attitude stemming from
“I have no sympathy for her,” Gosper said. "I think she's a cheat, like any other cheat.
Was the sum of all gold medals – those prizes she was able to win at the cost of the valued and esteemed virtues she gave up in the form of honesty and integrity – worth the reward and its weight when innuendo turned into speculation; speculation into accusations; accusations into denials; denials into further assertions; lawsuits stemming from those actions; loss of form, loss of liberty to pursue income and opportunity; loss of desire to continue; and loss of freedom to remain selectively secret resulting from the combination of all of the above?
Was her reward just and applicable when reputation and character were challenged and world-wide support began to become subdued? When prized possessions became yard-sale material, and house and home was taken from under her feet in an embarrassing fashion? When very private affairs of financial nature became public knowledge? When strength of character figuratively changed from being a Vogue-featured woman-on-the-rise to tabloid trash located in paperback form at a convenience store near you? When she ultimately had to stand before a court of law and discover that her story, as good as she may have told it, would not save her from spending time in prison?
Marion Jones likely doesn’t collect newspaper articles written about her these days – no matter how much one can assume negative press can be turned into something positive. It seems highly unlikely any reconciliatory spin could be put on going from riches to rags and seeing it printed hundreds of times in columns and syndications, plastered across most major newspapers in her home country, and reading about the same on the internet.
Then again, Marion Jones prefers the spotlight, and spending time alone in a prison cell can motivate one to read, reminisce and find temporary escape into much nicer, more fulfilling times; she may do just that, namely pick up old scrap papers and tell stories to other inmates about how she travelled the world; was involved in what could be considered an affair with a big man; was tricked by a bad coach; and was lonely without her kids. There’s an audience for such a story to be told.
An inability to reconcile his moral code prompted Chambers to resort to taking performance-enhancing drugs, yet he gained no title benefit to justify having done so. The fall-out was horrific, the punishment was justifiable, and he felt obligated to shield his mother from negative press accordingly.
Michael Johnson spoke about Chambers in a column in the Telegraph which can generally be applied to Marion Jones as well:
“I have been asked many times why an athlete would choose to use drugs. I always try my best to explain their stupidity by pointing out how people can get caught up in the money and the fame and not think about the risk involved. They also forget that they might not actually achieve what they believe they can, or what they have been promised they can, if they use drugs.”
The weight of a promise – belief in a great expectation – can lead to exceptional triumphs in life given the right motivation, the proper support and the means and opportunity. Gold medals are often won by athletes facing dire straits and insurmountable odds stacked against them to have even made it to the final as a contestant against the best in the world – athletes with more money, more means and more opportunity, but not with more to win and gain for an entire tribe, an entire people or an entire nation.
Victor Conte operated business on a premise that the athletics world was not created equally, which resulted in his having cheated the purity and integrity of the sport, creating false expectations for his clients, and robbing purists of a standard of performances which had considerably raised their anticipation of what was humanly possible to achieve with the right training, motivation and opportunity. Conte provided promises of stardom, excellence and fame (“a level playing field” as he’d call it) to certain clientele – many of whom were completely aware of the dangers wrought with forging a business partnership with him.
Conte’s pro-doping actions – no matter how meaningful or how easy to achieve – are under no circumstances justifiable to the least degree; he worked in ways which were contemptible, vile and loathsome. He wronged athletes, professional sports, fans who follow those sports and, equally as importantly, himself and his family of privacy and normalcy when he had previously been beleaguered by scandals, small claims lawsuits, personal problems and family issues relating to divorce and custody battles.
Was the consequence of all he had accomplished – supplying substances to lure dope tests in order to provide athletes like Marion Jones, Chryste Gaines, Tim Montgomery, Dwain Chambers, Michelle Collins, Kelli White and more evadable opportunities to pursue their dreams at an advantage greater than the sum of the athlete who had never been inclined to cheat – worth the costs of suffering defeat, vehicle collection, wristwatch and sustainable and profitable business notwithstanding?
“I hurt a lot of people and caused a lot of harm and damage,” says Conte, founder of the supplement and drug laboratory connected to five people who have been convicted of crimes, including Greg Anderson, Bonds' personal trainer. “Serious mistakes were made, and I learned some valuable lessons in the process.
“A lot of people in this world have made mistakes, including me. Did I commit crimes? Yes. Did I do time? Yes. It took awhile for me to forgive myself, and I have.
Marion Jones requested of the world a similar forgiveness.
“I recognize that by saying I'm deeply sorry, it might not be enough and sufficient to address the pain and hurt that I've caused you. Therefore, I want to ask for your forgiveness for my actions, and I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive me.”
Conte, in his past history with the media, has not demonstrated a character which has been susceptible to failure, nor has he granted the public free admission into the personal parts of his life. He has been defiant of order and defiant of the law, yet he has reached a point where his hands are raised above his head in surrender to the motion he created by one conscious choice to cheat. He states that the burden on his family has been too great to bear, but time will tell when the final chapters of his professional life are wound up.
Marion Jones had never before relented to the pressures she faced to bear a burden of falsity and duplicity prior to her confession provided to family and friends and spread across the internet. The nearest in proximity to folding under the weight of living between right and wrong on previous occasion was in having made an admission to The New York Times that the afflictions her family were facing had reached a maximum limit when her “B”-sample test was recorded and word was set forth declaring her innocence to charges of doping. Unfortunately, her admission retained no form of ownership to the root cause of those problems.
Marion Jones had prior to her conviction and sentencing portrayed a life which has not had a significant weight too great to bear or crosses too heavy to carry on her shoulders in relation to athletics. Her determination to succeed had its own soul and had helped her from an early age to deny fear and to push beyond comfort – to the point of appearing machine-like in manner and deed whilst on the track. Fear, to her, was like a pendulum which moved according to the laws of physics once it is set into motion. Once fear’s motion stops producing energy, it slows and lacks purpose. Marion Jones had not been a fearful woman on the track, and had taken risks in life which would greatly retard the common man’s willpower to try knowing the final, just and lasting rewards would be severe and leave a dubious legacy for his children to inherit.
Off the track, on the other hand, Marion Jones turned from a fearless defender of truth in the version she had to offer it to folding her cards, playing victim to life, and leaving it all up to fate to work out the future. May it be said that the matter of truth she attempted to endorse bore minimal to no weight of believability, and made it easier for her to transition from one extreme to another.
Marion Jones conceded that certain events in her life – a compilation of bills, an abundance of legal fees, and having adhered to high standards of living and the like – had become too much to maintain, and had, subsequently, become draining financially of her personal assets and energy.
Would it not have been possible for Marion Jones to have acknowledged that certain events in her athletics life had also caused her unwanted consequence by her own hand – a relation between result and cause similar to the personal one she faced? Or would that information, rudimentary at best, have been too much truth to reveal, though only on a level which is obvious to the untrained eye and passers-by who may never have followed her story? Recall, if you will, that Marion Jones did indicate that certain associations in her life had been associated with her name. Would it not have been prudent for the wise to have turned course and made a thoughtful admittance that those events did occur due to her personal actions?
Had the cost and price she paid for her lack of wisdom, which, if exercised correctly, would have not had her sprint down an athletics lane to infamy, been greater than the equal and just reward she had received for those efforts to deceive, lie, cheat, steal, deprive and prohibit others cheated out of qualifying places and championship medals from living dreams Marion Jones robbed unto herself?
What did it profit Marion Jones, when viewing her career retrospectively at the first instance – having undertaken a task to fly to the top of the athletics and personal wealth world through the aid and assistance of Trevor Graham and Victor Conte, who, in succession, would turn a machine forward in Marion Jones which could never find its own wilful ability to reach a pinnacle and stop on its own terms – to have had gained gold, silver and bronze, but to have lost respect and credibility – the soul of being included in society, and to have been stripped bare by the curse of plenty?
Had Marion Jones taken time to retrospectively profess that there did exist solid connections in her life between poor choice and dire consequence – both of the personal and professional category which accumulated actions affecting her well-being and position in athletics history – and endeavoured to be free from the entanglement to those through concerted efforts demonstrating a move away from bad choice, she could have much sooner conceded the fact that one simply is unable to continue running at will from one extreme to the other without the risk of being caught at some point in the middle.
However, Marion Jones did not do that in her personal life, and vacillated between the bounds of rich and poor. She exchanged cash for money in the financial affairs she undertook, and ultimately was snagged in a trap.
She didn’t follow that given path in her professional life, either.
When push came to shove in the athletics world, Marion Jones was a fierce competitor who would never permit herself to intentionally foul out of the game. She sprinted, planted and jumped, and landed as far as possible into the sandbox in which she played. When red flags were raised, she was the kind of person who would have used instant replays to demonstrate that steps on the line were not steps over the line, and, therefore, were no reason to foul her out. She was Marion Jones, she said, and had no will to be left behind.
Golfer Lee Trevino once stated that “in the game of life it's a good idea to have a few early losses, which relives you of the pressure of trying to maintain an undefeated season.”
Marion Jones, however, is a woman whose life has heretofore been surrounded by hunger, passion and a desire to achieve under the most extreme versions of pressure, and she has been an athlete who hated to lose...ever. Defeat has had no place in her life, and was the very source of her ambition to succeed.
When the burden of the consequences to her associations has been perceived to have burden Marion Jones, she has interchanged players in her game and continued onward. When the yoke she bore as a result of her personal actions grew too heavy, she simply strengthened her legs and marched onward. She had attempted to force herself to remain in the game despite how much it costs those who participate with her. The weights of anticipation and of the prize justifiably exceeded the cost to achieve those to Marion Jones, and people who followed her closely were simply treated as objects to use or overcome as she has made her way forward.