Marion Jones gives truth the runaround
They squirted syringes full of performance-enhancing drugs under her tongue and injected EPO and human growth hormone into her thigh. They tested her testosterone levels and red blood cell count so she could avoid detection. They strategically accelerated and tapered off the regimen to maximize her chances of winning races.
All along, record-setting sprinter Marion Jones would have the world believe she thought she was taking flaxseed oil. And that without her knowledge, the men closest to her conspired to turn her into a female Frankenstein.
However, grand jury testimony, documents and other material obtained by Yahoo! Sports – much of which has never before been revealed – indicate the former Olympic champion must have known she was taking performance-enhancing drugs for years. In addition, doping experts say her claims of ignorance are ludicrous. Repeated attempts to reach Jones for comment through her current and former representatives were unsuccessful.
Victor Conte: The BALCO mastermind orchestrated the complex regime of undetectable designer drugs and masking agents for track and field athletes and baseball and football players. Conte was charged with 42 counts of supplying athletes with drugs, but he pleaded guilty to only one count of steroid distribution and one count of laundering $100, and served four months in federal prison.
C.J. Hunter: At the Sydney Olympics, Hunter was revealed to have failed several previous tests for steroids. He was never charged in the BALCO case. He and Marion Jones divorced in 2002 after nearly four years of marriage. Hunter testified about Jones’ drug use to the BALCO grand jury in 2004.
Trevor Graham: The former coach of Marion Jones and Olympic champion Justin Gatlin. Graham trained eight track and field world champions who failed drug tests. He was convicted of one count of lying to a federal agent in BALCO and sentenced to home detention.
Tim Montgomery: The former world record holder in the 100 meter dash and father of Marion Jones’ son testified before BALCO grand jury that he took the Clear. Montgomery was convicted of dealing heroin and check fraud, and was sentenced to nine years in prison. He was stripped of his records after his performance enhancement was revealed.
Jeff Novitzky: The man who busted BALCO was an IRS agent and tireless investigator. Novitzky led the raid of Conte’s laboratory and has pursued the drug and perjury convictions of top athletes for the last five years. Jones pleaded guilty to making false statements to Novitzky, who is now an agent with the Food and Drug Administration.
Dr. Donald Catlin: A world-renowned expert on performance-enhancing drugs, Catlin testified before the BALCO grand jury. He has developed tests for numerous drugs and cracked the code on THG, the performance-enhancing substance in the Clear.
A portion of the evidence, including the grand jury testimony of Jones’ ex-husband C.J. Hunter, was obtained by Yahoo! Sports after the judge in the Barry Bonds perjury case lifted a protective order in December that had prevented about 30,000 pages of documents in the far-reaching BALCO steroids case from becoming public. This is another story in a Yahoo! Sports series that is broadening the understanding of the seven-year-old BALCO investigation, which has resulted in the prosecution of several athletes for perjury or lying to a federal agent and cost taxpayers an estimated $55 million.
Jones burst out of the starting blocks after her release from prison in September on charges of lying to a federal investigator, trying to rehabilitate her image on “Oprah” and “Good Morning America.” She didn’t “knowingly” take drugs, she said, brazenly suggesting that Hunter, ex-coach Trevor Graham and ex-drug supplier Victor Conte systematically pumped her full of potentially dangerous drugs while she was blissfully unaware.
Graham and Conte, like Jones, were convicted in BALCO. Hunter, a former Olympic shot-putter, tested positive for steroids. But Jones has produced no evidence of a conspiracy and no evidence that she was deceived into taking drugs. Much of the sworn testimony and other evidence, in fact, points to Jones being complicit in drug-taking for years, including the period leading up to the 2000 Sydney Olympics, where she won five medals, including three golds.
“After reviewing all the evidence, we were convinced [Jones] knew exactly what she was doing,” said Travis Tygart, CEO of the United States Anti-Doping Agency. “The end result in this sad case is a tragic fall from grace of a national hero for her admission of sporting fraud on a grand scale.”
Evidence of doping
“Did you ever see Miss Jones inject herself with human growth hormone,” a prosecutor asked Hunter in front of the BALCO grand jury on July 8, 2004.
“Yes,” Hunter replied.
Hunter’s grand jury testimony ran 99 pages, nearly every one focused on what he said is firsthand knowledge of his ex-wife’s complicated drug regimen. The testimony, obtained by Yahoo! Sports and published for the first time, is part of a wide range of court documents and firsthand accounts experts say strongly suggest Jones knew she was doping.
Hunter and Jones divorced in 2002 after less than four years of marriage. Investigators told him that the only way he’d be prosecuted was if he did not tell the truth. Hunter tested positive for steroids during the Sydney Olympics but was never charged in the BALCO case.
When statements by Hunter to investigators about Jones were leaked in 2004, the attorney who represented Jones claimed Hunter was seeking retribution against his ex-wife.
“C.J. Hunter has had an ax to grind ever since Marion Jones ended their marriage,” said Joseph Burton, Jones’ attorney at the time.
Other evidence against Jones has been in the public domain but not widely seen, including five months of BALCO doping calendars labeled “M.J.” and a BALCO accounting ledger that lists her name along with the steroids she allegedly took and her test results for testosterone, beginning with the date of Sept. 13, 2000, the eve of the Olympics.
Victor Conte, the mastermind behind the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative that supplied Jones with drugs and supervised her regimen, has provided analysis of those doping documents on a separate Yahoo! page. In addition, documents filed in the prosecution of Graham established that Jones was tested for testosterone and other drugs as far back as 1999. Yahoo! Sports has also reviewed lead investigator Jeff Novitzky’s 10-page summary of his interview with Hunter.
Conte’s unpublished manuscript on the scandal, “BALCO,” includes detailed descriptions of how he said he taught Jones to inject drugs and how she risked her health by ignoring safety protocols. Conte also interpreted how his doping calendars allegedly chronicled the timing of Jones’ regimen for four different drugs – three of which required injections.
A woman taking anabolic steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs would have questioned changes in the way she felt and looked, experts say.
“Her body would become more defined and more muscular,” said Dr. Gary Wadler, chairman of the prohibited list and methods committee of the World Anti-Doping Agency. “She would look in the mirror and see her body changing. She would have masculinized hair growth, a loss of menstrual cycle. There would be pubic hair growing toward the belly button and hair on the face and chin.”
Jones became celebrated for her ripped abs and powerful thighs, but Hunter told the grand jury that she was troubled by side effects. At times she felt ill, he said. The steroids, Hunter said, made her muscle bound and tight, and facial acne forced her to wear makeup.
The rise and fall of a champion
Like the myth of Babe Ruth pointing to where he’d blast it out of Wrigley Field in the 1932 World Series, Marion Jones drew international attention by announcing before the Sydney Games that she intended to win five gold medals.
Unknown to the public at the time were the doping connections cultivated by Graham, who trained several Olympians later proven to have failed drugs tests – among them 100-meter Olympic champion Justin Gatlin and former 100-meter world record holder Tim Montgomery.
In the months leading up to the Olympics, Jones became the star client for Conte’s international doping services. “When I started working with Marion Jones in August 2000, she was by far the highest-profile Olympic athlete in the world,” Conte told Yahoo!. “She had become the poster child of the Olympic Games in Sydney.”
Jones won three gold medals and two bronzes – and owned the greatest margin of victory in the Olympic 100 and 200-meter dashes in decades. The buzz continued the following January when she wore a gown on the cover of Vogue with the title – “Greater than Gold, Marion Jones, The New American Hero.”
It was fool’s gold. Doping calendars, doping testing and eye-witnesses indicate Jones relied on drugs to rise above the competition and stay on top of the world. Even after the 2000 Olympics, Jones pursued records, including the world mark in the 300 meters at the Mt. SAC Relays in Walnut, Calif., in the spring of 2001.
Conte’s unpublished manuscript recounts that on the eve of the race Jones came to his room at the Embassy Suites in nearby West Covina: “With Marion sitting in front of me, I instructed her how to inject herself with 4.5 units of growth hormone. She was told to follow the same protocol three times per week. I taught her to change the needle, dial up the dosage, disperse any air in the chamber and inject the drug. When she left my room, she took the NovoPen (an injection device) with her so she could administer her own injections thereafter.”
Then in late 2003, the veil began to be lifted. Jones was one of about 30 athletes called to testify in the scandal that originated at the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative, Conte’s Burlingame, Calif., company that supplied athletes with performance-enhancing drugs and became the flashpoint for the biggest doping scandal in history.
By March 2004, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that federal investigators had been told that Jones and other track stars had received steroids from the Burlingame, Calif., lab. Burton, who was then Jones’ lawyer, denied the charges, saying, “Victor Conte is either lying or when the statement was made it was involuntarily coerced. This is a character assassination of the worst kind.”
In December 2004, Conte accused Jones and other athletes of knowingly doping on ABC’s 20/20 and in ESPN The Magazine. Jones responded by filing a $25 million defamation suit against Conte stating that she had never taken “banned performance-enhancing drugs,” and had passed over 160 drug tests and successfully taken a lie detector test.
Conte fired back, telling USA Today: “This is nothing more than a PR stunt by a desperate woman, who has regularly used drugs throughout her career.”
Jones’ lawyers settled the lawsuit in March 2006, with both parties agreeing not to release the terms. What Jones and her lawyers might not have known was that years earlier the government had corroborated Conte’s statement and the evidence gathered in BALCO.
On June 8, 2004, IRS agents interviewed Hunter in Raleigh, N.C. Hunter was handed a proffer agreement stating that he would not be prosecuted unless he lied, obstructed justice or committed perjury. Hunter specified how Conte sent the drugs, the regimen Jones followed in taking the drugs and how she was tested frequently for testosterone levels and other markers that might tip off anti-doping authorities.
The Raleigh interview was a dress rehearsal for Hunter’s two-hour testimony before the San Francisco grand jury a month later. The government began its questioning by nailing down the delivery of the drugs, the most prominent of which was called “the Clear” because it was a performance-enhancing substance developed by Conte that was undetectable on drug tests. The Clear, which before and during the Sydney Olympics was the steroid norbolethone and later was the performance-enhancing substance tetrahydrogestrinone (THG), was administered by squeezing drops from a syringe under the user’s tongue.
Because it hadn’t been tested on humans and was not proven to enhance muscle growth, THG was not made illegal and not categorized as a steroid by the Justice Department until January 2005, according to sealed testimony by Novitzky and Dr. Donald Catlin, a world-renowned drug expert.
– From Grand Jury testimony of C.J. Hunter, a shot-putter and Marion Jones’ ex-husband.
Prosecutor: Did you and Miss Jones receive shipments of the Clear?
Prosecutor: Who were those from?
Hunter: They were from Victor, but he labeled them Vince Reed.
This disclosure was eventually followed by an account of Jones taking drugs.
Prosecutor: How many times can you remember firsthand seeing Miss Jones use the Clear?
Hunter: It’s quite frequently. That was the one thing she used the most.
Then came the central question – whether Jones was fully aware of the drugs she was taking. This would determine whether she could plausibly continue to deny her involvement in her own alleged doping.
Prosecutor: Did Miss Jones know what this was, this Clear?
Hunter: Yeah, I mean, she knew before I knew …
Prosecutor: Did she ever refer to it as flaxseed oil?
Hunter: No, no. Victor made a comment, and I think Trevor made the comment, that if anybody ever asks you what it is, say flaxseed oil, because I guess it just looks like flaxseed oil.
Prosecutors continued with questions probing the drug’s side effects.
Prosecutor: Was there a conversation in which Miss Jones was talking about the effect the Clear was having on her?
Hunter: There was a time where she was concerned about the acne she was getting … When you had to switch over to the … THG, it started causing her acne and she started to get upset about that.
Prosecutor: Did Miss Jones ever complain in your presence about tightness issues?
Prosecutor: … because of the Clear?
Prosecutor: … And that was a conversation?
Hunter: There was one conversation specifically when we were on the track, and I think it was actually in Sydney that she would tell Trevor how she was feeling, that she was starting to feel a little tight. And Trevor called Victor. And explained to him, that, you know, the dosages are supposed to decrease, and there was going to be a point at which the dosages stopped and the tightness would go away and everything would be fine.
Jones’ fall from grace hit hard. She pleaded guilty last year to lying to investigators about taking the Clear and lying in a check-fraud case that involved Montgomery, the father of her child. Montgomery, who began a romantic relationship with Jones late in 2002, has acknowledged that Conte supplied him with drugs. He has also pleaded guilty to laundering more than $1.7 million and dealing heroin, and is currently serving a nine-year sentence in federal prison.
Judge Kenneth Karas sentenced her to six months in prison on Jan. 11, 2008, and said he did not believe Jones when she said she did not realize she was taking performance-enhancing drugs until after the 2000 Olympics.
Karas expressed skepticism when she told him that she believed she was ingesting flaxseed oil, and suspected it had been a performance enhancer only when she was unable to train as intensively and did not recover as quickly after she stopped taking the substance.
“That is very difficult to believe, that a top-notch athlete, knowing that a razor-thin margin makes the difference, would not be keenly aware of what he or she put in her body,” Karas said during sentencing. “It was a troubling statement.”
After being released from a San Antonio halfway house in September following her prison sentence, Jones launched a national campaign to rehabilitate her tarnished image. And she repeated her claim that she did not knowingly take a banned substance.
In October, Jones appeared on “Oprah” and said she believed the Clear was flaxseed oil when Graham gave it to her, and that she only later learned from prosecutors that it was a performance-enhancing drug. Still, she lied when investigators asked her whether she’d taken it.
“I made the decision I was going to lie and try to cover it up,” Jones said on the show. “I knew that all of my performances would be questioned.”
In December, Jones appeared on “Good Morning America” and was asked by Robin Roberts: “You’ve said you didn’t knowingly take it. Is that the truth?”
“That’s the truth,” Jones replied. “What would be the point? I’ve already, as a lot of people say, have hit the bottom. There’s no further place to go than up.”
Jones’ fresh denials underscore how high the stakes are for a world champion revealed as a cheater. Before going to prison, she had to return her medals, lost her $2.5 million North Carolina house to foreclosure and filed for bankruptcy. She owes the IRS more than $300,000 in back taxes, according to bankruptcy records.
Her last track coach, Dan Pfaff, recently won a Texas court judgment for $240,000 for unpaid training fees and legal expenses. The lawyer who represented Pfaff said Jones was belligerent during her depositions. He said she claimed she didn’t know how much money she’d earned the last several years, the value of her Nike contracts, or even her mother’s last name.
“I have taken over 50 depositions, ranging from complex litigation to simple divorces to business contract disputes,” said Edmund (Skip) Davis, the attorney. “I have never encountered anything as obnoxious or as blatantly deceitful as Ms. Jones and her lack of concern regarding telling lies. She can cover the full range, from the little white lie to the mind-numbing whopper.”
In July 2008, Jones formally asked then-President Bush for a pardon, and Doug Logan, the CEO of USA Track & Field, responded by publishing an open letter to the president urging him to deny the request: “I don’t think anyone knows the answer to why athletes repeatedly deny cheating in the face of irrefutable facts. Only the athletes themselves know why they do it. It may be to, in their eyes, protect what they think remains of their reputations, or to protect their families, or for other reasons we can’t fathom. All it does is to further tarnish their reputations and establish that they are either liars of the highest order or completely detached from reality.”
Near the end of her spectacular career, Marion Jones repeatedly leaned on the fact that she never failed a drug test, a meaningless assertion given that the Clear was specifically designed to fool the testers.
To accept Jones’ latest round of denials, one must believe not only that the weight of overwhelming circumstantial evidence and eyewitnesses is inconclusive and that several people close to her engaged in an elaborate, nefarious scheme to pump her full of drugs. One must also believe that her former husband lied when he testified before the grand jury that he helped teach her to shoot drugs.
Prosecutor: Were there ever instances on which you injected Miss Jones with growth hormone?
Hunter: At first because she didn’t like needles.
Prosecutor: When you say at first, roughly what time period are you talking about?
Hunter: Right before Sydney, and it was a thing that I did, probably once, once or twice.
Prosecutor: And …
Hunter: Until she got the hang of how to do it.