The BALCO investigation of athletes' steroid use has not moved
swiftly, yet last week one of the world's fastest women felt it
bearing down on her. Lawyers for Marion Jones--who won five
medals at the 2000 Olympics and is one of America's great hopes
in Athens this summer--didn't dispute a report last Friday that a
check for $7,350, written to BALCO founder Victor Conte, had been
deposited on Sept. 8, 2000. On Sunday the San Francisco Chronicle
and San Jose Mercury News reported that Jones and her boyfriend,
sprinter Tim Montgomery, had been two of 27 athletes Conte told
investigators he supplied with steroids. Conte's lawyer accused
investigators of fabricating the information to put pressure on
their client. Conte, who pleaded not guilty after being indicted
for steroid peddling and money laundering in February, had not
named names, the lawyer insisted. Jones's lawyers said she had
neither authorized nor signed the check, nor had she used
steroids. (Montgomery also denies using steroids.)
Jones, who testified before a federal grand jury last fall, has
been mentioned in connection with steroids before. For a brief
time in 2002 and '03 she was coached by Charlie Francis, who had
been Ben Johnson's coach when Johnson failed a drug test in 1988.
And four years ago her then husband, shot-putter C.J. Hunter,
failed four drug tests and was banned for two years. The
signature on the check to BALCO reportedly belongs to Hunter.
Jones, 28, now finds herself under more scrutiny as she tries to
return to form after having had a baby last June. Recent races
suggest she has a ways to go. Though she anchored two winning
teams at the Penn Relays last Saturday (page 8), she ran poorly
at the Mt. SAC Relays on April 18, finishing fourth in her
strongest event, the 200 meters. Her time, despite a tailwind
over the allowable limit, was 23.02 seconds--1.18 seconds slower
than her gold medal time in 2000. "I'm at a point in my career
and in my life where I'm not surprised by anything I read or
hear," Jones said. "It's just another thing I have to deal with."
If the reports about Conte are accurate, however, Jones faces a
long, uphill road to Athens.
COLOR PHOTO: PAUL SAKUMA/AP (CONTE) STRONG DENIAL Conte (above) says he didn't implicate Jones(below).
COLOR PHOTO: MICHAEL STEELE/GETTY IMAGES (JONES) [See caption above]