Why You Shouldn't Believe Marion Jones: Vol. 59

Written by Eric.

This is the 59th 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. Though parts of this story may be historical in nature, they are of essense to the sum of the whole insofar as they tell a story of a woman who is more complicit in the BALCO affairs and her own drug-taking than she has led on.

This and the subsequent entries remaining will not attempt to discredit Marion Jones, but rather to help turn the page on all that she stood for in dirty word and deed.

Sports Illustrated's Tim Layden, in picking his 2008 Athlete of the Year (Usain Bolt) this week, stated that track "deserves better than to live forever in the ghetto of suspicion and whimsy, marginalized to the level of the sporting flavor of the month. It deserves a rock-solid place among the most valued sports on the planet." He's right.

This sport has succeeded in overcoming crucial tests of fan reconciliation in the past, and it will succeed in this one as well – despite the Victor Conte’s of the world staring opportunity between the eyes, and salivating with the thought of accomplishing the impossible.

People ask me, ‘Do you feel guilty about what you did? Are you ashamed?’ I don't mean any disrespect to judge Susan Illston, but the answer is no. I realized elite sport is about doing what you have to do to win. I've seen athletes being forced to decide whether to use or not use, and it's much more painful for them to give up the dream than to use anabolic steroids. That's what's really going on. That's the choice athletes face when they get to the very top.

Why did I do it? Because I'm a competitive person. I can't hold my own on a track, court or playing field. But I've still competed year-round at the highest levels. It's been special to be in the trenches when one of my athletes won an Olympic gold or became the world's fastest human.

Why am I telling you this now? Because I believe if you do things for the right reasons, the outcome will be positive. And I believe the world deserves to know the truth about the way things really work, painful as it may be to hear.”[1]

Conte has not been slow in discussing what he deems is the truth about the state of affairs as they appear visible from his vantage point. You’ve heard Conte state many “facts” as he witnessed them in the past, and have observed that Conte can be both blatant about “truths” as he can be as reserved about them. He’s spoken out, and he’s been wildly outspoken. When he talks, people continue to listen, which means that Victor Conte still has a captive audience to whom he can preach and minister his words of advice.

Whether or not Conte is perceived as a life-time liar who is incapable of telling the truth, he hits some very significant pegs squarely on the head without a slight effort when discussing details of doping which otherwise go untouched by those who participate in pursuing or are being pursued.

People – every day Jones – would ordinarily miss out on the opportunity to be informed that what he sees is not always what he comprehends.

Do athletes use insulin? Yes, it’s undetectable, Conte said. “Do athletes use thyroid medication? Yes they do, it’s undetectable. Do they use growth hormone? Yes, it’s undetectable. Do they use EPO [erythropoietin]? Yes they do, that test is extremely easy to beat.

How could the doping police do a better job? Conte insists that he has answered these questions. He has had three meetings with the US AntiDoping Agency and in February 2005 he spent three hours with an official from Wada. “And I didn’t do it in exchange for leniency,” he said. “I did it for the right reasons: to create a fully cooperative acknowledgement of the massive drug problem in elite sport.

For the doping authorities to be more successful, he recommends better target-testing. “When you see that the fastest two men in the world are both from a track club in Los Angeles, for instance, or the Bay Area, or North Carolina or Jamaica – this should be worth looking at. What you need to do is take the dollars you have and the number of tests you have and focus your resources on the top ten in each event. Why test the top 100 – the people who are not winning races and not winning dollars? Why test everybody two times when you could test the top ten-10 times?

He also recommends better timing of the testing. “The testing used to drop off hugely in the fourth quarter of the year. But my point is, this is the off-season quarter when the athletes are using substances for their intensive weight training. Why did the testers decide to take a nap then?[2]

Edwin Moses, the former four-time 400m hurdle world-record holder who had a 122-win streak in his event and a strong proponent of clean sport initiatives (he and several of his colleagues legislated and successfully adopted the USA out-of-competition drug-testing programme), spoke in direct response to Conte in a follow-up article in The Times (UK) – which was subsequently syndicated and expanded in the Los Angeles Times.

The braggadocio of Victor Conte – head of the Balco laboratory in California, who has admitted distributing steroids and who is practising his magic arts upon the weak-minded again after being released from prison – as revealed in the pages of The Times last week, tipped the scales of my silence: it is now time for me, and for other clean, world-class athletes from every sport, to speak out loudly against the claim that doping is simply the way it is and the only way to the top.

The values of honest sportsmanship, a level playing field, clean competition and sheer passion for the game that Laureus represents are the values that must propel me and others like me to speak out against characters like Conte, his cronies, his clients – and the systems and stakeholders that enable their crooked work. If we fail to take a stand for sport as we love it and once practised it, our legacy will be mean indeed.[3]

Steve Cram, the first man to ever run under 3.30 for 1.500m and the previous mile world-record holder, in responding to Chambers’ statement that the likelihood of clean athletes being able to win the Olympics, stated the following, which could easily be transferred to Conte as well:

I wish he would just shut up about athletics. I believe there are people out there who can still perform to the very highest level and break world records without taking drugs.[4]

Cram has been vocal about athletes polluting the sport in which he actively participated at the highest level in World and Olympic Games settings from 1978 – 1991, and has made it known in no uncertain terms that he wishes the injustices done to the sport to be made to a bare minimum by eradicating it of cheats.

Reducing to none the number of cheats at the highest levels is not an easy task. Consider the following scenario Conte paints of athletes who go about circumventing the testing methods:

They fill up their own cell phones so that when the testers call it says. ‘Sorry, the mailbox is full, you can't leave a message.’ Then the testers call other numbers. By the time they show up the athletes are clear, and they test negative. What's the worst consequence? It's a missed test.”[5]

Boldon, who was dismayed by the high level of cheaters during what he called “The Balco Era”, first offered this about the state of the sport and Conte:

We have some of the most talented humans on the planet competing in our sport – a few of whom try to cut corners. Don’t believe idiots like the already-convicted Victor Conte, who will open his mouth to say anything that will keep him in the news and erase the fact that he has very limited knowledge of what it takes to run fast – none of his clients in track were that impressive, even when juiced to the max.[6]

Conte’s mix of illegal products had an effect on Tim Montgomery’s “Project World Record”, and Marion Jones improved by leaps and bounds in her early professional career, but one understands the point Boldon is attempting to make.

Boldon actually made an about-face in January 2008, stating that Conte could be one of track and field’s “most-influential” people of 2008 if he could be trusted to remain scrupulous to his duties.

Conte has responded to criticisms he has faced for his post-BALCO comments, stating to the USA Today:

As much as people want me to climb under a rock and stay there,” Conte says, “I helped create a lot of positive change. I'm the one to push over the world's first domino and brought to the world's attention that change is needed. I believe I'm one of the most qualified people in the world to help create a genuine level playing field for the young athletes of the future.[7]

Looking back whilst attempting to forge ahead, the sport of athletics can – and will with absolute certainly – succeed in its attempt to have the harmonious development of mind and body – sans drugs – to be the basis of an athlete’s success if it can convince chemists who have a burning passion and a hunger to better scientific methods exercise foresight into the effects of their actions.

Patrick Arnold, who, following his four-month prison term for his invention of THG, is one such person who has not heeded the call – having developed a specialty drug which is meant to block estrogen and increase testosterone production, an aromatase inhibitor. Aromatase inhibitors as a group are prohibited under USADA and WADA rules, as they are considered steroids.

In assessing the various key players in the BALCO case, Mr. Arnold stands out as an anomaly. He was drawn into the conspiracy for reasons not driven by greed, promise of reward or even by misplaced loyalty or friendship, but by an intense -- albeit ultimately misguided -- scientific passion.[8]

In terms of survival and reconciliation, moving forward and moving past, I have never had the narrow-minded derisive confidence that my words to you would not be doubted, nor have I had the overbearing self-assurance that you would go along with those word and beliefs on the assumption alone that Marion Jones is an immoral person who lies, cheats and has stolen from this time-honoured sport we cherish and adore. As I clearly stated in the beginning of this book, I am no expert on doping, on behaviours, on lies and cover-ups, nor am I a person trained on the skill of catching cheats.

One of the bases of this series is that, in the court of public opinion, Marion Jones and her attorneys believe that we should never have come to a point where she should have been put on trial before us. They will state that there is no physical evidence supporting the idea of the misconduct I am accusing her of had been committed, and cast doubt and suspicion on the testimony of witnesses I’ve relied upon whose own evidences has been greatly scrutinised and/or would raise objection from her counsel had those witnesses been called upon in a court of law to testify, and whose testimonies in public and in private – in the line of fire – have been “wildly” contradictory.

Despite all of this, do not be fooled, as Marion Jones has “confessed”. The merits of this series are not based on her confession, however, rather on what logic dictates one should reasonably infer.

They appear to concede to the world that there were circumstantial evidences which could have indicated that Marion Jones could have been viewed as being suspicious at times, but those suspicions not having enough weight to make her a suspect in any sense of the word, they’ll state before conceding victory to the little guy upon her confession. They have urged the world to consider the lack of previous evidences against their client demonstrating belief and persuasion beyond a reasonable doubt to be an assumption that there was doubt of the substance of evidences collected against her.

However, due to the diligence paid to locating, unearthing and revealing the truth – the whole truth in the entirety of its context, and the corroboration and help of those whose own lives have been ruined and whose reputations have been irreparably damaged as a result of their own deliberate acts to deceive along with the thorough, complete and intensive investigation made by the authorities, athletics can move forward on leap at a time – one increment over the next – sans Marion Jones until the wheels of the whole are turning in tandem with the desired goal of competing for the joy and prosperity afforded to clean athletes, not dirty ones.

Athletes like Dee Dee Trotter have taken it upon themselves to play clean and stay clean, having launched her own personal “Test Me, I’m Clean”, campaign.

When they go down for something as dramatic as steroids, it's kind of like we're clumped into one bottle and it says all of them must do it because he was the best and he does it. Everyone probably does it. That was the bottom line for me. I said, I do not do drugs. Everyone will know that.[9]

That dare has been made on a previous occasion by Marion Jones, which makes it nearly impossible for athletes who truly may be free of drugs to truly be trusted and believed.


[1] ESPN The Magazine, “Last Laugh”, 2004-12-20
[2] Times Online, “Why doping is as easy as taking candy from a baby,” 2007-05-17
[3] Times Online, “Time to take a stand against the cheats and the spineless”, 2007-05-21
[4] The Scotsman, “Chambers should be banned for life, says Coe”, 2007-06-04
[5] CBC.ca, “Drug-free Olympics? Dream on”, 2008-05-14
[6] Caribbean Net News, “Track and field cheaters upset Trinidad’s Boldon”
[7] USA Today, “After BALCO, Conte still in the supplement game”, 2007-07-08
[8] San Francisco Chronicle, “BALCO steroid developer sentenced to prison term”, 2006-08-05
[9] Knoxville, TN WATE 6, “Dee Dee Trotter talks track goals, steroid free,” 2007-07-05

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