The Start of Something Big Marion Jones's drive for five began brilliantly in the 100, then came news that her husband had failed a drug test

Oct. 02, 2000
Oct. 02, 2000

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Oct. 2, 2000

Olympics 2000

The Start of Something Big Marion Jones's drive for five began brilliantly in the 100, then came news that her husband had failed a drug test

She hates to cry. Tears are too close to the soul, they could
rinse away her strength. Marion Jones was 11 when her beloved
stepfather died in 1987, and she didn't weep. She was 21 when
she told her North Carolina basketball teammates three years ago
that she was leaving them to return to track and field, and on
that day the tears came in such uncontrollable waves that it
hurt. She didn't like that. "It's hard for me to deal with my
emotions," she would say later. "Like the whole crying thing."

This is an article from the Oct. 2, 2000 issue Original Layout

It's much simpler for her to smile, to laugh, to fight, to run.
Especially to run. Last Saturday night in Sydney, Jones ran as if
in a beautiful dream. Slashing with equal parts grace and power
through the cool winds that swirled inside the Olympic stadium,
she won the 100-meter gold medal that has been awaiting her since
she was a teen sprint prodigy. She ran a 10.75 and won by .37 of
a second, a greater margin than that of any other women's 100
winner since Marjorie Jackson of Australia in 1952. Jones gave a
playful hop after she crossed the finish line and smiled with a
glow that lit the air around her. Then she sobbed, spilling
droplets in small shudders, a moment of unfiltered joy and a cry
she could at last embrace. That moment was everything the Olympic
Games can be, yet it was also a last, sweet celebration before
controversy rolled in.

Less than 48 hours after Jones's victory, the International
Amateur Athletics Federation (IAAF), the world governing body of
track and field, announced that Jones's husband, shot-putter C.J.
Hunter, 31, had tested positive for a banned substance. Arne
Ljungqvist, head of the IAAF's medical commission, told SI on
Tuesday that Hunter had tested positive for the steroid
nandrolone at the July 28 Bislett Games in Oslo and also on three
other occasions during the summer of 2000. Hunter, the 1999 world
champion, had been a member of the U.S. Olympic team until he
withdrew on Sept. 11, citing his slow recovery from Sept. 3
arthroscopic surgery on his left knee.

On Tuesday morning in Sydney, Jones and Hunter appeared together
at a press conference arranged by a Sydney-based public relations
firm whose services they had retained. Among those with them at
the conference was lawyer Johnnie Cochran, who said, "I'm just
here as a friend of the family." Cochran represented Jones in
1993, when she was briefly suspended by USA Track and Field, the
governing body of the sport in the U.S., for failing to take a
mandatory drug test. Her suspension was overturned. The couple
arrived holding hands, and Jones made only a brief statement: "I
am here to show my complete support for my husband. I believe
that the legal system will do what it has to do to clear his

Hunter wept in expressing his innocence and his love for his
wife. (No small matter; the often surly, 330-pound Hunter
dislikes tears more than Jones does.) "There's not anything
anybody could say or do to get me to bring shame on the people I
love," Hunter said. "I don't know what happened, I don't know how
it happened. But track and field is not that important to me."
Hunter said that when he learned of the positive, he told Jones,
"I don't know what happened, and I'm sorry." Hunter and Jones
also produced a man named Victor Conte, whom they identified as a
San Francisco-based nutritionist, and he said that Hunter's
nandrolone positive was the result of using dietary supplements.
With Cochran watching, Conte's presentation had the staged feel
of courtroom expert testimony. Many athletes faced with
nandrolone positives in the last two years have made the same
defense. Some have won their cases, including 40-year-old
Jamaican sprinter Merlene Ottey, who finished fourth in the 100
behind Jones. "Supplements would be an explanation that Hunter
could make," said Ljungqvist, "but it's not an excuse in our
view. We have told all our athletes that they are responsible for
what they take."

The Hunter affair cast a cloud over the track and field
competition at the Games and further stained a sport already
wrestling with a drug-addled image, whereby every outstanding
performance--and performer--is subject to suspicion. "Our sport
just took a huge decline, and that's really sad," said Maurice
Greene, the flamboyant 26-year-old U.S. sprinter who won the
men's 100 minutes after Jones's victory in the women's.

Perhaps more tragically, the findings against Hunter dragged
Jones's reputation into the mud with his, even as she looked
ahead to this week's pursuit of an unprecedented five gold
medals. There was no suggestion that Jones was engaging in
doping, but cynics who follow the Olympics can be quick to attach
guilt by association. At the Atlanta Games skepticism surrounding
the triple gold medalist Irish swimmer Michelle Smith were
largely jump-started by the fact that Smith's husband was Dutch
former shot-putter Erik de Bruin, who had served a steroid
suspension. It isn't fair to Jones, but her brilliant work is now
much more suspect than it was before Monday.

In the much larger game of international athletic politics,
Hunter's positive test was immediately put in play by IOC
officials, who are enraged at the U.S. for what they perceive as
grossly ineffective--and possibly corrupt--American drug-testing
practices. One highly placed IOC source said that USA Track and
Field had failed to disclose 15 of its positive test results
since early 1999, some within the last nine months. Ljungqvist
had made a similar charge days earlier, putting the number at "12
to 15."

Early on the day that the Hunter story broke in Sydney's Daily
Telegraph, IOC vice president Dick Pound of Canada took an
extraordinary step for a person in his position and confirmed
Hunter's positive test, an act that was clearly an attempt to
embarrass USA Track and Field. "This is a case that took place in
July," Pound later said. "We're hearing about it in September,
and all we learned from the United States was that [Hunter]
wasn't competing. Come on. We've all got to work together to
solve this [doping] problem, and the United States should lead
the way rather than being led, kicking and screaming, into being
part of the solution."

The drug-testing system administered by USA Track and Field is
rooted in confidentiality and due process. The organization
doesn't reveal names until all appeals have been exhausted. The
result is long on fairness but sometimes short on a common sense
that the rest of the world can understand. For instance, American
400-meter hurdler Bryan Bronson, who was ranked No. 1 in the
world in 1998, tested positive for steroids that same year; USA
Track and Field confirmed his two-year suspension only weeks
before it expired on the eve of the 2000 Olympic trials. Craig
Masback, the former miler who is USA Track and Field's CEO,
asserted in Sydney on Monday that his organization is the "world
leader" in the area of drug testing. He was referring to the
voluminous number of tests that it performs annually but without
mentioning the ponderous trail that tests results then follow.

Masback's statement came during a hastily called press conference
in which he repeatedly refused to confirm that Hunter had tested
positive, despite the IAAF's announcement, a reticence that came
off as ridiculous, even when Masback cited that Hunter hadn't
formally waived his right to confidentiality. It's precisely that
type of attitude that angers IOC officials, along with the U.S.
athletes' and coaches' habit of pointing fingers at others, as
U.S. swimming coach Richard Quick did in Sydney. (Following gold
medal swims by the Netherlands' Inge de Bruijn and Pieter van den
Hoogenband, Quick said he believed not all the athletes in the
Olympic meet were clean, without citing specific swimmers. As to
why he felt this way, Quick said it was "intuition.")

"It's like alcoholism," said Pound of USA Track and Field's
attitude toward its own drug-testing system. "You have to admit
that there's a problem. If you're in a state of denial, it's not
going to get dealt with."

Johann Olav Koss, the revered Norwegian former speed skater who
won four Olympic gold medals and is an IOC member, is livid about
USA Track and Field's procedures. "There are so many runners out
there, very good athletes, who are under suspicion," says Koss,
"and it's not fair to be labeled as a drug cheat just because the
United States is not releasing information. The U.S. has to make
public the cases when there are abnormal results."
Dissatisfaction with U.S. drug-testing was so rampant in Sydney
that there was discussion of sending the U.S. Olympic track and
field team home.

Meanwhile, the collateral damage to Olympic track and field was
immeasurable and sad, overshadowing breathtaking performances.
Jones's run in the women's 100 was one of the most impressive in
history and underscored her ability to thrive in an environment
charged with pressure. She and Hunter, who have been married 23
months, spent three days in the relative quiet of Melbourne
before moving to Sydney on the day of the opening ceremonies.
Jones marched with the other U.S. athletes and renewed an old
friendship with fellow North Carolina Tar Heel Vince Carter, the
Toronto Raptors forward, with whom she played pickup games at
Woollen Gym on the Chapel Hill campus.

Hunter and Jones took up residence in a modest apartment in a new
seven-story building in Bankstown, a western suburb of Sydney.
The building was so recently finished that a dumpster filled with
construction materials greeted them each morning when they left
for Marion's training. There were bad omens early in their stay:
When Jones was presented with her Team USA bag, filled with her
uniforms and other clothing, Hunter asked for his. A USA Track
and Field official told him that he couldn't have it because he
was no longer a member of the team. Jones decided on the spot
that she would not attend any U.S. Olympic Committee functions
while in Sydney, and her decision set off a flurry of nice-making
by USOC officials.

Yet if she was momentarily angry, she was also relaxed and
professional in public. At a dinner hosted by Olympic sponsor
Panasonic, Jones not only delivered a gracious speech that she
didn't expect to have to give but also reemerged from an elevator
on her way out and posed for pictures. When the time came to run,
she coasted through three preliminary rounds and then toasted the
field in the final, which didn't include U.S. trials runner-up
Inger Miller, who was out with a hamstring injury. Jones was
tested for drugs after her victory and came up negative.

"Marion is just faster than all the other girls," said Ottey. "I
wish I were 10 years younger so I could try to chase her, but
it's useless now. It's useless for all of us." Runner-up
Ekaterini Thanou of Greece said she ran the race as if Jones
weren't in it.

In celebration of her victory, Jones ran to her mother, Marion
Toler, with whom she has had a tempestuous--if
loving--relationship, and carried not only the U.S. flag but also
the flag of Toler's native Belize on her victory lap. It was a
sweet moment, flush with reconciliation.

Greene faced relatively tougher competition than Jones, yet was
nearly as dominant, running into a headwind to a time of 9.87
seconds, the second fastest in Olympic history. His week was
lived more lavishly than Jones's. Greene roomed with his HS
International clubmates Miller, Ato Boldon and Jon Drummond in an
opulent rented home in Coogee, hard by the beach, west of central
Sydney. One day he test-drove a Ferrari for a sponsor, and
another day he was linked in a newspaper gossip column to an
Australian model, with a chummy picture to support the words.
"Nothing to it," Greene said. "I walk out of a movie, somebody
says, 'Can I take your picture with this girl?' and--bam!--they
take it. Then it's in the paper." The movie, by the way, was
Frequency. "A little slow," said Greene. "I was in an action

As the 100 drew nearer, Greene grew tighter. He has won
back-to-back world titles, holds the world record (9.79 seconds)
and has broken 10 seconds 31 times, more than any other man in
history. But these were his first Olympics, and last Friday
night, after the quarterfinals, he stayed at the stadium much too
long, talking and strutting, keeping up the image of confidence.
"Olympic rookie," said Greene's agent, Emanuel Hudson. "He
doesn't realize he hasn't won anything yet."

On Saturday morning he realized it. "I was messed up, man,"
Greene said. "My nerves were all over the place. I tried to drink
a glass of water, and my hand was shaking."

The nerves never died, even when he reached the final with two of
his housemate-training partners, Drummond and Boldon, the 100-
and 200-meter bronze medalist in 1996. In the race for the medal,
Drummond, perhaps the best starter in history, and Boldon blasted
ahead of Greene, but there's no sprinter who holds form like
Greene. He caught both at 60 meters to win by daylight. Boldon
finished second and Obadele Thompson of Barbados third. "The top
sprinters are so close," says Thompson, "but day by day and
moment by moment, Maurice seems to keep things together really
well. It's really tough to beat somebody who does that. Ergo, we
don't beat him very often."

Flush with a victory he envisioned while sitting in the seats at
the 1996 Olympics, Greene rode in a small van back to Coogee.
"We've got to find a Kentucky Fried Chicken," he begged his
driver, before settling on a McDonald's, where the world's
fastest man walked in with a gold medal around his neck and
ordered a Filet-O-Fish and fries. Back at the Coogee house much
later that night, six people stood around a marble kitchen
counter. The coach, John Smith, was there; so was Hudson and HSI
masseuse Andy Miller. "A toast," said Boldon. "First, to the
baddest training group anywhere. Second, to everybody who made it
through these 100-meter rounds. Third, to the new Olympic
100-meter champion, Maurice Greene." Their tiny shot glasses of
whiskey clinked musically in the night, and everybody drank.

It would be two more days before the sport and the Games would be
asked to exercise their restorative powers. For those given to
metaphors, the Hunter storm was preceded by a literal one, as the
balmy weather of Week 1 gave way to wind and rain on Sunday
night. One day later, in the slipstream of the Hunter scandal,
came one of the most remarkable nights in track and field

In the first of epic, back-to-back 400-meter races, Australia's
Cathy Freeman, a world champion of Aboriginal descent who
famously lit the cauldron during the opening ceremonies, won a
gold medal that was beseeched by her nation. On the morning of
the race, a front-page article in The Sydney Morning Herald
read, "There has been no single occasion when more has been
expected of an Australian sportsperson.... Rightly or wrongly,
Cathy carries with her not just the nation's sporting
hopes...but its political aspirations."

She won while not at her best, driving home in 49.11 seconds as
the huge stadium shook from the roar of more than 112,000 people.
She finished in front of three women who all ran personal bests,
and then she circled the stadium with Australian and Aboriginal
flags knotted together.

Moments later, Michael Johnson became the first man to repeat as
Olympic champion in the 400 meters, running a modest (by his
standards) 43.84. He came to Sydney accepting a secondary role--to
Freeman, to Jones, even to Greene. "It's a different kind of
enjoyment," he said before the race. Yet he left with a piece of
history that he values deeply.

The night wore on. In a battle of two of the greatest distance
runners ever, Ethiopian Haile Gebrselassie repeated as
10,000-meter champion, nipping Kenya's Paul Tergat at the wire by
.09 of a second, the closest 10,000 in Olympic history. Maria
Mutola, 27, whose talent was discovered more than a decade ago by
Mozambique's most beloved poet, won her country's first Olympic
gold medal, in the 800. British triple jumper Jonathan Edwards,
haunted for five years by a Beamonesque world record at the 1995
world championships in Goteborg, Sweden, finally got an Olympic
gold medal and promised to bring it home and show it to his two
small sons.

At the cauldron end of the stadium, Stacy Dragila of the U.S. won
the first Olympic gold medal in the women's pole vault, jumping
15'1" (1 1/4 inches less than her world record) to defeat Tatyana
Grigorieva of Australia in a riveting battle. The yearlong
pressure of being the Olympic favorite had driven Dragila to
spend long sessions lying in the dark, visualizing success in
Sydney, and she did it again on Sunday night. She saw the
stadium, full and throbbing with energy, bathed in camera
flashes. She saw herself sailing over the bar and hearing the
roar. "I saw beautiful things," she said.

On Monday a more sinister image came to light, that of a sport
trying to chase its demons into the night.

COLOR PHOTO: COVER PHOTOGRAPH BY HEINZ KLUETMEIER COVER Under the Gun The amazing Marion Jones presses on in Sydney after her husband's drug bombshellCOLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY HEINZ KLUETMEIER Off and running Jones (second from left) made swift work of the 100 field by turning in a 10.75.COLOR PHOTO: BILL FRAKES Golden moment Greene (3275) overcame nerves and a slow start to beat Drummond (3269) and Thompson to the tape. COLOR PHOTO: SIMON BRUTY Olympic history Her winning 15-footer was a small vault for Dragila, but a huge vault for womankind. COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER Flying colors Carrying the weight of a nation on her shoulders, Freeman was unflagging in the 400.COLOR PHOTO: WALTER IOOSS JR. Going out in style In his last Olympic 400, Johnson (3294) cruised to an unprecedented second straight gold in the event. COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY BILL FRAKES/DAVID CALLOW GATEFOLD Marion Jones won her first Olympic gold medal, in the 100 meters, by the largest margin in that race since the 1952 Games.
The Hunter affair cast a cloud over track and field and further
stained a sport already wrestling with a drug-addled image.
"There has been no single occasion when more has been expected
of an Australian sportsperson."
Johnson came to Sydney accepting a secondary role. "It's a
different kind of enjoyment," he said.