This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and this is The Score.
It was end of summer, 2000. I was in Sydney, Australia, covering those Olympic Games for Fox Television. I had just seen Marion Jones race that day and was totally enthralled with her athletic presence. A powerfully muscled, yet lithe gazelle. Like the greats of track before her, Wilma Rudolph, Carl Lewis, she strode down the straightaway with such fluid grace.
It was just after 3am. I had just fallen asleep. Another late night of wrapping the day's stories. My cell phone rang. It was a source, telling me Jones' husband, shot putter C.J. Hunter's drug test had just been leaked. He was positive for steroids. I bolted to the studio where the crew and I did some quick corroborating and filed the story by dawn. By 10am a press conference was held in downtown Sydney. The room was packed. Every credited journalist in Sydney was there. The story was C.J. Hunter and yet nobody was there for the C.J. Hunter story. Hunter entered with Jones, arm in arm. He in baggy hip-hop jeans, she in chiseled tights. It was that morning, in Sydney, that the Jones drug scandal began, even though to this date she has never tested positive for any illegal substance. You sat staring at the couple that morning and you just couldn't help doubting that a wife, a track athlete, could not know anything whatsoever about her husband, a fellow track athlete, injecting steroids into his veins. Yet that was Marion Jones' party line that day...and to this day...even after their divorce and Hunter's subsequent claims that he had witnessed his ex-wife Jones inject herself with steroids. He betrayed her. She never crossed him.
Then came along the next man in her life, sprinter Tim Montgomery. Montgomery was found to have used not just steroids but a full menu of illegal drugs and has been banned from the sport for two years. He's also, along with Jones' coach, been recently charged with a money-laundering scheme. The Jones mystique on the track faded fast, by virtue of the male company she tended to keep.... along with the charge that she was a user of drugs distributed by the Bay Area Lab called BALCO, which is the subject of an ongoing investigation.
Once the men in her life had been found out, Jones lived under a microscope, literally. Her drug testing increased to a vigorous level. When Jones ran very poorly in 2004, had a miserable Olympics in Athens, logic dictated that her times were slow because she was clean. Logic made us conclude that she had won all those medals in Sydney, not by hard work and sublime talent, but by sophisticated chemistry.
The last time Jones ran was nearly a year ago, when she finished fourth in a meet in Mexico. It seemed a sad ending to a sad story. Great talent gets mixed up with bad boys. They influence her to stray. She cheats. Never gets caught, outright, but the implication is loud and clear. She cleans up her act but never regains her speed. Further sign that her speed had always been chemically-enhanced.
But wait! The story takes a new twist. Marion Jones has sunk her cleats into the track again. It was this past weekend, again in a meet in Mexico. The sport has her under sharp surveillance so we can assume she's lily-white clean at this point. She glided out in front of the field, her abs crunched in a defined washboard, and silently let us know that she has speed, plenty of it, and her speed is squeaky clean.
Watching Jones this past week-end made me rethink Barry Bonds a bit. I've been hard on Barry. But now I'm looking at his case in light of the Jones timeline. Same BALCO associations but also has never tested positive. Whatever creams or even injectibles he may have used in the past, his blood chemistry is certainly micro-managed like a choir boy at this point. Maybe Barry deserves the same generous attitude we extend to Marion. Whatever they achieved in the past surely wasn't all propped up little green pills. They're clean now so let's appreciate them for what they do accomplish on their own natural juices.
This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and that's The Score.