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Friday, October 05, 2007

Marion Jones: Self-confessed drug user (but there's a catch)...

"I want to apologize to you all for all of this. I am sorry for putting you all through this after you have been there for me through everything. I want to apologize to you, in advance, for the questions that you will be asked about me and about your relationships with me. And lastly, I am sorry for disappointing you all, in so many ways. My intent was never to hurt any of you."

A confession and a guilty plea

These words, penned in a letter from Marion Jones to close family and friends, represent a confession that many have been waiting for since the BALCO scandal hit the news years ago. Marion Jones, winner of three Gold and two Bronze medals at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games, the figurehead of those Games, the most recognizable face in world athletics for many years, has finally confessed to the use of the now infamous steroid, THG, also known as "the clear". This anabolic steroid drug, developed specifically to avoid detection by Victor Conte and Patrick Arnold, was one of the key 'ingredients' of the BALCO scandal, which also involved Dwain Chambers, Kelli White and baseballer Barry Bonds, to name a few.

For years, Jones has been under intense pressure to confess her involvement. She was even interviewed by federal agents, and stuck steadfastly to her "I'm innocent" story. Later today, she is expected to plead guilty in federal court to lying to these federal agents, as well as to one other case involving some financial irregulaties.

So the bubble has finally burst, though in reality, few 'believers' were left. It is a remarkable feat of endurance that Jones has held out as long as this, given the massive sentiment that built up against her during the BALCO investigation. Almost everyone linked with Jones, including ex-husband CJ Hunter, ex-partner Tim Montgomery and coach Trevor Graham, have been tainted by this scandal.

And while 'guilt by association' is hazardous and unfair, it certainly didn't help Jones' case, which was pretty damning even without these links. Her reputation was left in tatters, and many European athletics meeting organizers refused to invite her to participate in their meetings, having been clamouring at her door only years before, such was her pulling power. In Athens 2004, her return to Olympic Competition, this spectacular fall from grace was even more evident - four years before, everyone had cheered her on in her quest for five golds. In Athens, the world celebrated when she finished only fifth in the long jump and that the USA dropped the baton in the relay event. It was as though the events were better off for having her off the podium.

But is she disclosing all?

Yet the tragic thing is that even though Jones is finally "confessing", her letter smacks of half-truths and "pacifiers". At one point, she claims that Trevor Graham had given her the banned drug THG as far back as 1999, telling her it was flaxseed oil. She claims that she "trusted him and never thought for one second that he would jeopardize my career, nor his own."

She then later claims that when first interviewed by federal agents in 2003, she recognized the substance called "the clear" and panicked, with the sudden realization that she had in fact taken it for two years. So that is her confession. But the allegations will not stop at this, because there are published accusations of injections, witnessed by ex-husband CJ Hunter and Conte. If they are to be believed, then, Jones is pulling what seems to have become a common trick for athletes.

When they know the game is up, for whatever reason, they confess, but give just enough to be believed and get the dogs off their back. This tactic seems to have been used by Ivan Basso, and it was also supposed to have been used by disgraced SA Cricket captain Hansie Cronje for his match-fixing scandal. In fact, this is the same trick that many pre-pubescent children learn to use on their parents - get caught with your hand in the cookie jar and admit to having ONE cookie, when in fact you've cleaned out the jar! It's that same tactic, just with much higher stakes.

What is most sad is that Jones has been on TV in the last few years adamantly denying her involvement. She's even gone so far as to be proactive about it, initiating a campaign to clear her name. Her wide smile, her charisma and very deliberate efforts to portray an innocent 'victim' in what became a nasty slanging match between her and Victor Conte (he once said she was delivering "Oscar winning performances", so good were her lies) are not actions of someone who lied out of fear, as she claims in her letter.

So we applaud the confession and the fact that justice might be done - no word yet on her medals, but they may well be forfeited.
The statute of limitations on doping cases is generally eight years, which means the five Sydney Olympic medals are in jeopardy.

But we can't help but wonder, are we just being pacified? Yet another performance by a media-savvy, astute PR machine? Barry Bonds is next...

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