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SYDNEY 2000 / SUMMER OLYMPICS | RANDY HARVEY

Task Gets Harder for Jones

As if drive for five wasn't enough, now she faces extra challenge because of husband's positive test.

September 26, 2000|RANDY HARVEY

SYDNEY, Australia — The ancient Olympics survived for more than 1,100 years before Emperor Theodosius of Rome, frustrated by the cheating, bribery and corruption, declared them pagan and shut them down.

I'm not sure when it's going to happen, or who is going to do it, but I'm now convinced that the modern Olympics are on a fast track to becoming ancient. History is repeating itself.

Turn out the flame, the party's over.

Who could have guessed that it would be a shotputter's positive test for a steroid that marked the beginning of the end? Some shotputter somewhere tests positive for something almost every day of the year. You can't even apply for admission to the shotputters' union unless you have tested positive at least once.

This, however, was not just any shotputter.

This was Mr. Marion Jones.

C.J. Hunter, half of the so-called Beauty and the Beast team of world champions, was revealed in Sydney's Daily Telegraph on Monday to have tested positive at a meet in Oslo for 1,000 times over the allowable of a steroid called nandrolone.

The positive test was confirmed later in the day by the International Amateur Athletic Federation, which governs track and field, and the mind-boggling dose was confirmed by the International Olympic Committee's medical chairman. It has since come to light that he failed four tests this summer for the same steroid.

The implications for Hunter were . . . well, I have to be honest, there are very few among track and field officials, media or even shotputters who much care. No candidate for Mr. Congeniality, he has antagonized just about everyone he has come across over the years and shouldn't expect many sympathy cards.

*

No, the primary concern here was for Jones, who, until Monday, seemed en route to fulfilling the media's prophecy that she would become the No. 1 star of the Games for American audiences.

If you don't know her by now, you must be watching Australia's Channel Seven on your satellite dish. (It carries only news of Australian swimmers and Cathy Freeman. Gee, the networks here are almost as jingoistic as they are in the United States.)

The Mrs. Jones of the Nike commercials, she was on the cover of virtually every magazine's pre-Olympic issue except for U.S. News & World Report. No one except for a couple of women who have to compete against her here seemed resentful because she, unlike her husband, is bubbling over with charm.

The first question after the news about Hunter broke was how it would impact Jones' chances to become the first female track and field athlete to win five gold medals in a single Olympics. She easily won the 100 meters Saturday but must somehow put this distraction behind her in time for Wednesday's qualifying in the 200 and long jump.

"She was a prohibitive favorite in only two of her five events," USA Track and Field's executive director, Craig Masback, said, referring to the 100 and 200. "Her goal has only been made more challenging by developments here."

The second question was more provocative. If Jones' husband is using steroids, is she sharing his medicine cabinet?

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That might not be a fair question, but it is one that has to be addressed.

There is a precedent. Four years ago in Atlanta, U.S. swimmers were quick to point a finger at the Irish phenomenon, Michelle Smith. As part of their case, they pointed to her husband, Erik de Bruin, a former Dutch discus thrower whose career was ended by a four-year drug suspension.

Smith won three gold medals and a bronze in 1996 but two years later was banned from swimming for trying to cover up traces of drugs in her urine sample with a shot of Irish whiskey.

There are substantial differences in the two cases.

Smith, who had very little success in eight years of competition internationally before 1996, was an overnight success, which always breeds suspicion. Jones, as those who have followed her since her high school days in Thousand Oaks know, has always been a meter or five ahead of her competition.

Also, De Bruin was unquestionably a drug cheat. Hunter, although there were eyebrows raised when he withdrew from the U.S. Olympic team four days before the Games began after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery, is still eligible to compete under USATF rules because he has not received due process.

At a news conference today in which he and Jones were accompanied by "friend of the family" Johnnie Cochran, Hunter tearfully proclaimed his innocence, saying he inadvertently took nandrolone in iron supplements.

"I might not be the most congenial person," he said. "I'm downright mean at times. But no one on the planet can say I don't love my wife and don't love my kids. I have never in my life, nor will I ever, do anything to jeopardize their opinion of me."

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