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Jones Harshly Blames Officials

Anti-doping agency is a 'secret kangaroo court,' the sprinter says in asking for open hearing. That request is rejected.

June 17, 2004|David Wharton, Alan Abrahamson and Tim Reiterman | Times Staff Writers

SAN FRANCISCO — Not long ago, Marion Jones was a darling of the American sports scene, a powerful sprinter with explosive strides, a blur going down the track.

Now she cuts a starkly different figure, a woman standing her ground against speculation about steroids and questions from anti-doping authorities. With the clock ticking down to the Summer Olympics in Athens, and her former husband talking to investigators, Jones faces the specter of charges that could ban her from the Games.

Rather than duck the controversy, the five-time Olympic medalist has mounted a fiercely public defense with help from lawyers and Al Gore's former spokesman. On Wednesday, at the latest in a series of news conferences, she denounced the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency as a "secret kangaroo court," and called for an open hearing to clear her name.

Anti-doping officials, who are still conducting their investigation, called her comments "baseless" and quickly rejected her request.

Jones has not been formally accused of doping violations. But this latest salvo reflects the increasing tension in a high-stakes battle between the relatively new USADA, trying to establish itself as an enforcer, and an athlete fighting for her professional life.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday June 18, 2004 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 53 words Type of Material: Correction
Check to BALCO -- A Sports section article Thursday about track star Marion Jones said her representatives have said that C.J. Hunter, Jones' ex-husband, signed a $7,350 check from her account made out to the nutritional supplement lab known as BALCO. Her representatives have said only that Jones did not sign the check.

"Despite all of its leaks and rumor-mongering, USADA has yet to produce a single shred of credible evidence against me," Jones said Wednesday in a conference room here. "I should have been cleared long ago."

And although she stands to lose her shot at the Athens Olympics, not to mention millions of dollars in endorsements, experts say the sport also has something at stake.

"She has been phenomenal, a wonderful diplomat," said Steven Ungerleider, a noted researcher and author in the field of doping. "If it is determined there was drug use, that will be a tragic day."

The scandal began in September when federal agents raided the nutritional supplement company Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative, or BALCO, collecting what prosecutors say is evidence of steroid distribution to dozens of high-profile athletes.

USADA, a quasi-independent organization that oversees drug testing for U.S. Olympic athletes, obtained BALCO evidence and launched its own investigation, racing to keep cheaters out of the Olympics.

Authorities persuaded sprinter Kelli White to accept a two-year ban. They notified four other sprinters -- including Tim Montgomery, Jones' boyfriend -- of potential doping violations.

Most often, USADA pursues an athlete after a positive drug test. In this case, the evidence has been circumstantial, consisting of e-mails, canceled checks and other BALCO documents.

There have also been questions about USADA's adopting international athletic guidelines that require the agency to prove its case only to a level of "comfortable satisfaction," not beyond reasonable doubt.

Jones was drawn into the scandal in part because she had endorsed a BALCO nutritional supplement called ZMA. While other athletes kept silent, she took a different approach.

First, she denied using performance-enhancing drugs and pointed out that she had been tested 160 times over her career, always coming up clean. Then, at a New York news conference last month, she threatened to sue if USADA took action against her.

"I'm not going to sit down and let someone, or a group of people or an organization, take away my livelihood because of a hunch, because of a thought, because somebody is trying to show their power," she said.

The sprinter subsequently requested a meeting with USADA officials at which she viewed evidence against her, including a $7,350 check written to BALCO from her bank account in 2000 and a calendar that bore her initials and appeared to lay out a schedule for taking steroids.

Jones' representatives -- former Gore spokesman Chris Lehane among them -- have said the check was signed by her ex-husband, shotputter C.J. Hunter, and that she had no knowledge of it. They have said she never saw the alleged doping calendar.

Jones said: "I have been cooperative, and I have done all that I can do to provide USADA with information."

Still, the pressure continued to mount.

In recent days, investigators spoke with Hunter, who was leaning toward assisting USADA, his attorney said. Another potential witness, BALCO founder Victor Conte, sent a letter to President Bush offering to testify against officials, coaches and athletes as part of a plea bargain.

Jones hastily called Wednesday's news conference.

"I'm not concerned in the least," she said. "If they tell the truth, then my name will be cleared."

Asked about her connection to BALCO and Conte, which she initially dismissed as a few phone conversations, Jones acknowledged a more extensive relationship.

In 1999, she said, her trainers were researching nutrition and happened upon ZMA, a permissible supplement. "We sought out a company that we thought was reputable," she said.

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