How to Handle Marion Jones

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Marion Jones, the defrocked sprinter, has had her records and sports competitions erased from the record books, at the IAAF's suggestions, from September 1, 2000 to the present. While some, including I , might consider it rather draconian, there is a certian beauty in making Ms. Jones responsible for her actions, something that is lacking in modern society...

Marion Jones was a fantastic prep track athlete, winning championships galore while she was a high school phenom in California. We featured her on her first cover in Summer 1991, as she blasted through the California track season during her sophomore year. Doug Speck, one of the most respected observers of the prep side of the sport, wrote an amazing piece for us then, and spoke about how strong an athlete Marion was and what an amazing prospect she could be.

Then, Marion left the sport and went to Basketball. It was not until 1997, when Jones began running again, and won her first World Championship title at 100 meters that many of us became amazed again. Marion was, simply, the best women athlete of her generation.

Jones continued to amaze in 1998 and 1999. I was able to get a bird's eye view of Marion at the National Scholastic Outdoor Meet, where USATF had run an elite meet that year. Marion was long jumping and having some trouble, but her athleticism won out. She was simply so darn strong and so darn fast, no one could touch her.

Then came 2000, and her five medal haul in Sydney. She won three golds and two bronze medals. Pretty darn impressive, but pretty realistic from the Marion followers--she was just that good.

Then, the wall came falling down. First, her husband was busted for testing positive
at several meets in Europe, just before the start of the track sessions in Sydney. Marion acquitted herself quite well.

But, the rumors persisted. In Edmondton, when Marion took second in the 100 meters, she seemed human and the rumors went back underground, but, not too far. By 2003, it was another story. Marion was being booed at track events and the rumors were very consistent. Her ex husband had accussed her. Her name came up in BALCO.

And it got worse. But, in early October 2007, when Marion Jones spoke, from the steps of a New York courthouse, that she had indeed cheated and used the drug clear, her naysayers were as aghast as her fans. Marion Jones had lied, and lied well, for nearly a decade.

Marion Jones is getting what she is due. The IAAF, in suggesting that Marion Jones' records be expunged from the record books, are making the practical response. My concern in rewriting history, is that the larger lesson will be lost. Marion is still, in my mind, playing to her many fan's emotions. After having lied for so long, all we know about Marion Jones is that she is a very well equipped liar.

Her admission has also allowed the folks who say that Marion was an okay athlete who used a super juice to become great. I look at it another way. One world class coach once told me, when talking about the Ben Johnson affair back in 1988, that he hoped that Ben would run 9.7 again, after being drug tested. The coach reasoned that one could not make a race horse out of a work horse, and that drugs were used by athletes who wanted a guarantee that they would be the best.

Using drugs in sports is just that. It takes the sporting chance out of the activity. Ideally, when nine sprinters line up, we try to give them the same distance to run, the same conditions, so that, in theory, the one who developed their talents, their skills the best, and who runs best on that day, wins. Not the one who takes the best drugs.

Marion Jones needs to tell the truth about what she did, and how she did it. Her apologies are just words until then. If she truly wants to give back to the sport that she has besmirched, Marion Jones needs to truly come clean. But that will be hard, as anyone who has told the truth in a difficult situation knows. But living a lie is much, much harder...

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