If only for a few minutes, Marion Jones helped track and field
reveal its better side last Friday night at the Millrose Games at
Madison Square Garden. Soon after she had won the 60-meter dash,
her first race since a year-long maternity leave, Jones circled
the arena, smiling and signing autographs for people leaning from
the stands. As she walked, an expanding wave of cheering kids, 10
to 15 deep, followed her. It was a reminder that Jones, who won
five Olympic medals in Sydney, is still the marquee figure in her
sport, and that there is a measure of hope that she and the sport
can move past the controversy that has dogged them.
Jones has never failed a drug test, but last fall she was called
to testify before a federal grand jury in San Francisco
investigating BALCO, a Burlingame, Calif.-based supplement
company that has been accused of producing the designer steroid
THG. (Jones was listed on BALCO's website as a client of the
company's founder, nutritionist Victor Conte.) Last week, for the
first time, Jones publicly addressed the BALCO case--which has
hung over the track world for months--saying, "Nobody has ever
said anything about Marion Jones using performance-enhancing
drugs, and they never will." Yet until she clarifies her link to
BALCO and Conte (her lawyers have advised her not to discuss
specifics during the investigation) she will face questions about
Jones answered any questions about her crowd appeal by boosting
Millrose attendance to 14,000, up from 8,000 last year. Her first
indoor race in six years was a challenge for Jones, who is
notoriously slow out of the blocks. "After four steps I looked
like a woman who'd been on pregnancy leave for 12 months," said
Jones, who was in fourth place after 30 meters. "Then I switched
gears and said, I'm Olympic champion and I better be out running
and dominating this race." She finished in 7.21 seconds, the
second-slowest winning time at Millrose in the last 13 years.
Jones, who last June gave birth to a son, Tim Jr. (whom she calls
Monty), fathered by her sprinter boyfriend Tim Montgomery, won't
discount making another run at five gold medals this summer in
Athens, but she forcefully deflects requests for predictions. "I
have work to do, and I needed to race or I was going to pull my
hair out," she said after Friday's meet. "I missed track."
The feeling was mutual.
COLOR PHOTO: DAVID BERGMAN (TOP) Jones (third from right) ran down Angela Daigle (far right) towin the Millrose 60.