IN 1997 MarionJones, then 21, seized track and field by its throat, winning the 100 meters atthe U.S. nationals. She was a primal force, tall and strong, graceful only inher easy dominance. In a way, her emergence was no surprise; Jones had nearlymade the '92 Olympic track team as a high school junior before turning herfocus to college basketball at North Carolina, where she was an All-America.From '97 to 2000, Jones would dominate track and field like no woman before,winning five medals (three gold) at the Sydney Olympics. Beloved by track fans,the media and the You Go, Girl! set, Jones ascended to a place in sports sheshared only, perhaps, with soccer star Mia Hamm.
It all officiallyended for Jones last Friday in a White Plains, N.Y., courtroom, where shepleaded guilty to lying to federal agents and admitted to using steroids beforeand during her Olympic run. (Jones, who faces up to six months in prison, alsoretired from track.) Her drug use was no surprise, even if her unburdening was.Jones's impassioned denials of steroid use over the years—her high-priced legalrepresentation has reportedly left her in dire financial straits—rang hollow inthe face of voluminous circumstantial evidence that included damning statementsby BALCO chief Victor Conte and Jones's ex-husband, shot-putter C.J.Hunter.
Jones'sconfession, however, is incomplete. She admitted only to using steroidsunknowingly, ingesting drops that notorious coach Trevor Graham said wereflaxseed oil. On Monday, Jones announced that she would voluntarily return herSydney medals to the IOC, but it remains a half coming-clean. There also seemsto be a disconnect in her time line. She says Graham began drugging her in1999. In '98, Jones won 35 of 36 competitions in the 100, the 200, the 400 andthe long jump and produced six of the 11 fastest 100-meter times in history.She was Superwoman—and, she implied last week, she was clean. If that's true,Jones fell even further than it seems.