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Questions Await Jones

Track officials want to talk with five-time medalist about association with Francis, who supplied steroids to Ben Johnson.

January 29, 2003|Helene Elliott | Times Staff Writer

Marion Jones' association with banned sprint coach Charlie Francis has raised eyebrows among international track officials -- and now USA Track and Field and the International Assn. of Athletics Federations want to talk to her about it.

Jones, who won three gold medals and two bronze medals at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, and 100-meter world record holder Tim Montgomery, her partner on and off the track, had been coached by Trevor Graham in Raleigh, N.C., until late last year. Jones then announced she would work with Canadian Derek Hansen, a stretching expert and coach who had no world-class athletes among his students, and Montgomery followed her.

However, the two were photographed working on the track at Toronto's York University with Francis, who admitted under oath that he had supplied steroids to sprinter Ben Johnson before the 1988 Seoul Olympics. Johnson was stripped of his 100-meter gold medal after testing positive for banned substances, and Francis was prohibited from working again with Canadian national team athletes. He has since defended the use of performance-enhancing drugs as necessary to attain world-class times.

"We have initiated a dialogue with the athletes and their representatives," said Jill Geer, a spokeswoman for USA Track and Field. "We've expressed our concern about the stories that have been written. It's an ongoing dialogue. Because the discussions are ongoing, we don't feel it's appropriate to discuss in detail."

Charles Wells, who represents both athletes, did not return a message left at his office. Jones has not responded to interview requests made through another of her agents.

Lamine Diack, president of the IAAF, told the Times of London he plans to meet with Jones and dissuade her from training with Francis because of the coach's tainted reputation. During an IAAF meeting last month, directors of the six Golden League meets, which draw elite athletes to Europe each summer to compete for hefty purses, expressed concern for the image of the sport and their competitions if Jones and Montgomery bring Francis with them.

"It is a difficult situation for us because I like this lady very much," Diack said. "I am not happy that they decided to train with Charlie Francis and I expect to talk to her about that. It is not the best decision for our sport. She has to explain what happened. She has to explain this decision."

Golden League organizers reportedly are considering not inviting Jones and Montgomery to run in their meets next summer, which could compromise the pair's training and preparation for the 2004 Athens Olympics. The meet directors will confer again during the world indoor championships in Birmingham, England in March.

Gunther Janzetzky, meet director for the Berlin event, told the Agence France-Presse news agency he and his peers in Zurich, Switzerland, and Oslo are inclined to snub Jones and Montgomery for fear of creating a public relations disaster. "If they break a world record and are afterward convicted of doping we would have a problem," Janzetzky said.

Jones and Montgomery recently canceled plans to train and run in Australia, after an outcry arose there over their relationship with Francis. They are believed to be training in Toronto.

Jones emerged unscathed from the scandal that engulfed her then-husband, shotputter C.J. Hunter, at the Sydney Olympics. She stood by him after it was announced he had tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs, though they later divorced. Diack noted her dignity under those trying circumstances and said he's inclined, at least for now, to give her the benefit of the doubt.

"It does not mean that Marion Jones is going to take doping to improve," he told the Times of London. "I don't expect that. She is a nice girl. But it is not very good for her image and for the image of our sport."

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