Marion Lois Jones (born October 12, 1975), also known as Marion Jones-Thompson, is an American former world champion track and field athlete and a former professional basketball player for Tulsa Shock in the WNBA. She won three gold medals and two bronze medals at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia, but was later stripped of her medals after admitting to steroid use. Jones did retain her 3 titles as world champion from 1997–1999.
At the time of her admission and subsequent guilty plea, Jones was one of the most famous athletes to be linked to the BALCO scandal. The case against BALCO covered more than 20 top level athletes, including Jones's ex-husband, shot putter C.J. Hunter, and 100 m sprinter Tim Montgomery, the father of Jones' first child.
Marion Jones was born to George Jones and his Belizean wife, Marion, in Los Angeles, California. She holds dual citizenship with the United States and Belize. Her parents split when she was very young, and Jones's mother remarried a retired postal worker, Ira Toler, three years later. Toler became a stay-at-home dad to Jones and her older half-brother, Albert Kelly, until his sudden death in 1987. Jones turned to sports as an outlet for her grief; running, pickup basketball games, and anything else her brother Albert was doing athletically. By the age of 15 she was routinely dominating California high school athletics both on the track and the basketball court.
Jones is a 1997 graduate of the University of North Carolina (UNC). While there, she met and began dating one of the track coaches, shot putter C.J. Hunter. Hunter voluntarily resigned his position at UNC to comply with the requirements of university rules prohibiting coach-athlete dating. Jones and Hunter were married October 3, 1998, and trained for the Sydney 2000 Summer Olympics.
In the run-up to the 2000 Olympics, Jones declared that she intended to win gold medals in all five of her competition events at Sydney. Jones' husband, C.J. Hunter, had withdrawn from the shot-put competition for a knee injury, though he was allowed to keep his coaching credentials and attend the games to support his wife. However, just hours after Marion Jones won her first of the planned five golds, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced that Hunter had failed four pre-Olympic drug tests, testing positive each time for the banned anabolic steroid nandrolone. Hunter was immediately suspended from taking any role at the Sydney games, and he was ordered to surrender his on-field coaching credentials. At a press conference where Hunter broke down in tears, he denied taking any performance-enhancing drugs, much less the easily detected nandrolone (which showed up in all four tests in amounts over 1000 times normal levels); Victor Conte of BALCO, who was regularly supplying "nutritional supplements" to athletes trained by Trevor Graham, blamed the test results on "an iron supplement" that contained nandrolone precursors and tied previous positive nandrolone tests from Jamaican sprinter Merlene Ottey and British sprinter Linford Christie to the same supplement. As late as 2004, Hunter was still denying the charges and attempting to gain access to the results to see if they could be analyzed further. Jones would later write in her autobiography, Marion Jones: Life in the Fast Lane, that Hunter's positive drug tests hurt their marriage and her image as a drug-free athlete. The couple divorced in 2002.
On June 28, 2003, Jones gave birth to a son, Tim Montgomery Jr, with then-boyfriend Tim Montgomery, a world-class sprinter himself. Because of her pregnancy, Jones missed the 2003 World Championships but spent a year preparing for the 2004 Olympics. Montgomery, who did not qualify for the 2004 Olympic Track and Field team for poor performance, was charged by the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), as part of the investigation into the BALCO doping scandal, with receiving and using banned performance-enhancing drugs. The USADA sought a four-year suspension for Montgomery. Montgomery fought the ban but lost the appeal on December 13, 2005, receiving a two-year ban from track and field competition; the Court for Arbitration of Sport (CAS) also stripped Montgomery of all race results, records and medals, from March 31, 2001, onward. Montgomery later announced his retirement. The investigation into Montgomery's illegal substance use once more called into question Jones' own protests about not using steroids and never having been tested positive for steroids, especially in light of former trainer Trevor Graham's increasingly visible role in the BALCO case.
On February 24, 2007, Jones married Barbadian sprinter and 2000 Olympic 100m bronze medalist Obadele Thompson. Their first child together, a son named Ahmir, was born in June 2007. She gave birth to daughter Eva-Marie on June 28, 2009.
In high school, Jones won the CIF California State Meet in the 100 m sprint four years in a row, representing Rio Mesa the first two years and Thousand Oaks high school the last two. She was successfully defended by attorney Johnnie Cochran on charges of doping during her high school track career. She was selected the Gatorade Player of the Year for track and field three years in a row, once at Rio Mesa and twice at Thousand Oaks. Angela Burnham preceded her with the award at Rio Mesa, Kim Mortensen followed her with the award at Thousand Oaks. Those schools joined Jesuit High School (Sacramento) and Long Beach Polytechnic High School in having two athletes win the award. She was Track and Field News "High School Athlete of the Year" in 1991 and 1992. She was the third female athlete to achieve the title twice, immediately following Angela Burnham at Rio Mesa High School, who was the second to achieve the title twice.
She was invited to participate in the 1992 Olympic trials, and, after her showing in the 200 meters finals, would have made the team as an alternate in the 4×100 meters relay, but she declined the invitation. After winning further statewide sprint titles, she accepted a full scholarship to the University of North Carolina in basketball, where she helped the team win the NCAA championship in her freshman year. Jones "red shirted" her 1996 basketball season to concentrate on track. Jones lost her spot on the 1996 Olympic team because of an injury.
She excelled at her first major international competition, winning the 100 m sprint at the 1997 World Championships in Athens, while finishing 10th in the long jump. At the 1999 World Championships, Jones attempted to win four titles, but injured herself in the 200 m after a gold in the 100 m and a long jump bronze.
At the Sydney Olympics, Jones finished with three gold medals (100 and 200 metre sprint, and 4x400m relay) and two bronze medals (long jump and 4x100m relay). However, she was later stripped of these medals after admitting that she had used performance-enhancing drugs. Her ex-husband Hunter, an Olympic shot-putter and confessed steroid user, testified under oath that he had seen her inject drugs into her stomach in the Olympic Village in Sydney. Jones vehemently denied using performance-enhancing drugs until her confession in 2007.
A dominant force in women's sprinting, Jones was upset in the 100 m sprint at the 2001 World Championships, as Ukrainian Zhanna Pintusevich-Block beat her for her first loss in the event in six years; Pintusevich-Block was one of the names revealed by Victor Conte during the BALCO scandals. Jones, however, did claim the gold in both the 200 m and 4x100 m relay.
On her 2004 Olympics experience, Jones said "It's extremely disappointing, words can't put it into perspective." She came in fifth in the Long Jump and competed in the women's 4x100 m relay where they swept past the competition in the preliminaries only to miss a baton pass in the final race. Jones promised that her latest defeat would not be the end of her Olympic efforts, and reasserted in May 2005 that winning a gold medal at the 2008 Olympics remained her "ultimate goal."
May 2006 saw Jones run 11.06 at altitude but into a headwind in her season debut and beat Veronica Campbell and Lauryn Williams in subsequent 100 m events. By July 8, 2006, Jones appeared to be in top form; she won the 100 m sprint at Gaz de France with a time of 10.93 seconds. It was her fastest time in almost four years. Three days later, Jones once more improved on her seasonal best time at the Rome IIAF Golden League (10.91 seconds), but lost to Jamaica's Sherone Simpson, who clocked 10.87.
- The IOC and IAAF stripped Jones of all medals, points and results received after September 1, 2000, after Jones admitted to using steroids prior to the 2000 Summer Olympics.
In November 2009, Jones was working out for the San Antonio Silver Stars of the WNBA. She had played basketball while in college at the University of North Carolina, where her team won the national championship in 1994. Her No. 20 jersey, honored by the school, hangs in Carmichael Auditorium. She had been selected in the 3rd round of the 2003 WNBA Draft by the Phoenix Mercury. On March 10, 2010, the Tulsa Shock announced that Jones had signed to play with the team, making the professional minimum (about $35,000) in her first season. Jones made her debut on May 15, in the Shock's inaugural game at the BOK Center against the Minnesota Lynx. In 47 WNBA games, Jones averaged 2.6 points and 1.3 rebounds per game.
Jones was waived by the Shock on July 21, 2011.
Top Speed film
Jones appears in the 2003 film Top Speed, along with other speed specialists such as racing driver Lucas Luhr, mountain biker Marla Streb, and Porsche Cayenne designer Stephen Murkett. Directed by Greg MacGillivray and shot in IMAX format, the film covers details from races to mistakes she made within her performances.
Use of illicit performance-enhancing drugs
Throughout most of her athletic career including two Olympiads and several championship meets, Jones had been accused, either outright or by implication, of taking performance-enhancing drugs. These accusations began in high school in the early 1990s when she missed a random drug test and consequently was banned for four years from track and field competition. (Jones claimed she never received the letter notifying her of the required test; attorney Johnnie Cochran successfully got the four-year ban overturned.) Soon, it became apparent that Jones tended to train with both coaches and athletes who themselves were dogged by rumors and accusations surrounding performance-enhancing drugs. And yet until 2007, Jones routinely denied—in almost every way possible and in almost any venue where the question arose—ever being involved with performance enhancers in any way, shape, or form. She frequently said that she had never tested positive for performance-enhancing substances; in her autobiography, she blamed the 2002 breakup of her marriage to C.J. Hunter in part on the fact that Hunter had tested positive for steroids four times before the 2000 Olympics, tainting her own drug-free image.
On December 3, 2004, Victor Conte, the founder of BALCO, appeared in an interview with Martin Bashir on ABC's 20/20. In the interview, Conte told a national audience that he had personally given Jones four different illegal performance-enhancing drugs before, during, and after the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games. In the course of investigative research, San Francisco based reporters Lance Williams and Mark Fainaru-Wada reported Jones had received banned drugs from BALCO, citing documentary evidence and testimony from Jones's ex-husband C.J. Hunter, who claims to have seen Jones inject herself in the stomach with the steroids.
According to Hunter's 2004 testimony before a federal grand jury, Jones's use of banned drugs began well before Sydney. Hunter told the investigators that Jones first obtained EPO (Erythropoietin) from Graham, who Hunter said had a Mexican connection for the drug. Later, Hunter said, Graham met Conte, who began providing the coach with BALCO "nutritional supplements", which were actually an experimental class of "designer" steroids said to be undetectable by any drug screening procedures available at the time. Graham then distributed the performance enhancers to Jones and other Sprint Capitol athletes. Still later, Hunter told federal agents, Jones began receiving drugs directly from Conte.
Jones had never failed a drug test using the then-existing testing procedures, and insufficient evidence was found to bring charges regarding other untested performance-enhancing drugs.
The Washington Post, citing unidentified sources with knowledge of drug results from the USA Track and Field Championships in Indianapolis, Indiana, reported that on June 23, 2006, an "A" sample of Marion Jones's urine tested positive for Erythropoietin (EPO), a banned performance enhancer. Jones withdrew from the Weltklasse Golden League meet in Switzerland, citing "personal reasons", and once more denied using performance-enhancing drugs. She retained lawyer Howard Jacobs, who has represented many athletes in doping cases, including Tim Montgomery and cyclist Floyd Landis. On September 6, 2006, Jones's lawyers announced that her "B" sample had tested negative, which cleared her from the doping allegations.
On October 5, 2007, Jones admitted to lying to federal agents under oath about her steroids use prior to the 2000 Summer Olympics and pleaded guilty at the US District Court for the Southern District of New York (in White Plains). She confessed to Judge Kenneth M. Karas that she had made false statements regarding the BALCO and a check-fraud case. She was released on her own recognizance but was required to surrender both her US and Belizean passports, pending sentencing in January. Although a maximum sentence of 5 years could be imposed, the prosecution recommended no more than 6 months as part of Jones's plea bargain.
After her admission, Jones held a press conference, where she finally publicly admitted taking steroids before the Sydney 2000 Summer Olympics and acknowledged that she had, in fact, lied when she previously denied steroid use in statements to the press, to various sports agencies, and to two grand juries. One was impaneled to investigate the BALCO "designer steroid" ring, and the other was impaneled to investigate a check fraud ring involving many of the same parties from the BALCO case. As a result of these admissions, Jones accepted a two-year suspension from track and field competition issued by USADA, and announced her retirement from track and field on October 5, 2007. She broke down in tears during the press conference as she tearfully apologized, saying "...with a great amount of shame...I stand before you and tell you that I have betrayed your trust...and you have the right to be angry with me... I have let my country down and I have let myself down."
USADA stated that their sanction "also requires disqualification of all her competitive results obtained after September 1, 2000, and forfeiture of all medals, results, points and prizes". On January 11, 2008, Jones was sentenced to 6 months in jail. She began her sentence on March 7, 2008, and was released on September 5, 2008.
In the BALCO case, she had denied to federal agents her use of the steroid Tetrahydrogestrinone, known as "The Clear", or "THG", from 1999, but claimed she was given the impression she was taking a flaxseed oil supplement for two years while coach Trevor Graham supplied her with the substance. In a published letter, Jones said she had used steroids until she stopped training with Graham at the end of 2002. She said she lied when federal agents questioned her in 2003 because she panicked when they presented her with a sample of "The Clear".
Peter Ueberroth, Chairman of the US Olympic Committee, reacted to the news of Jones's confession and guilty plea on perjury charges by issuing a statement calling on Jones to "immediately step forward and return the Olympic medals she won while competing in violation of the rules". Ueberroth added that her admission was "long overdue and underscores the shame and dishonor that are inherent with cheating." IAAF president Lamine Diack said in a statement that, "Marion Jones will be remembered as one of the biggest frauds in sporting history."
On October 8, 2007, a source confirmed that Marion Jones surrendered her five medals from the 2000 Summer Olympics. On the same day, Ueberroth said that all the relay medals should be returned, and on April 10, 2008, the IOC voted to strip Jones' relay teammates of their medals as well, although this decision would successfully be appealed by seven of Jones' teammates and overturned in 2010.
On December 12, 2007, the IOC formally stripped Jones of all five Olympic medals dating back to September 2000, and banned her from attending the 2008 Summer Olympics in any capacity. The IOC action also officially disqualified Jones from her fifth-place finish in the Long Jump at the 2004 Summer Olympics.
Seven years after winning a women's record five Olympic track and field medals and receiving multimillion-dollar endorsement deals, Jones was broke. According to the Associated Press, Jones was heavily in debt and fighting off court judgments, according to court records reviewed by the Los Angeles Times. In 2006, a bank foreclosed on her $2.5-million mansion near Chapel Hill, North Carolina, where Michael Jordan was a neighbor. She was also forced to sell two other properties, including her mother's house, to raise money. In her prime, Jones was one of track's first female sports millionaires, typically earning between $70,000 and $80,000 a race, plus at least another $1 million from race bonuses and endorsement deals.
In July 2006, Jones was linked to a check-counterfeiting scheme that led to criminal charges against her coach and former boyfriend Montgomery. Documents showed that a $25,000 check made out to Jones was deposited in her bank account as part of the alleged multimillion-dollar scheme. Prosecutors alleged that funds were sent to Jones' track coach, 1976 Olympic gold medalist Steve Riddick, in Virginia, then funneled back to New York through a network of "friends, relatives and associates." Riddick was arrested in February on money-laundering charges. According to the indictment and subsequent documents filed with the court, the link to Jones was made through one of Riddick's business partners, Nathaniel Alexander.
On October 5, 2007, Jones pleaded guilty to making false statements to IRS Special Agent Jeff Novitzky leading the ongoing BALCO investigation in California. Jones claimed she had never taken performance-enhancing drugs. "That was a lie, your honor," she said from the defense table. The federal government, through grand juries, had been investigating steroid abuse since 2003.
Jones also pleaded guilty to making false statements about her knowledge of a check-cashing scheme to New York US Department of Homeland Security Special Agent Erik Rosenblatt, who has been leading a broad financial investigation that has already convicted Montgomery, sports agent Charles Wells, and her coach, Steve Riddick.
Prosecutors told U.S. District Judge Kenneth Karas that any sentence between probation and six months' imprisonment would be fair (with the maximum penalty being five years in prison); Karas responded by seeking advice as to whether he could go beyond the six-month sentence. Meanwhile, Jones' lawyers asked that her penalty be limited to probation and community service, arguing, in part, that she had been punished enough by apologizing publicly, retiring from track and field, and relinquishing her five Olympic medals.
On January 11, 2008, Karas sentenced Jones to six months in jail for her involvement in the check fraud case and her use of performance-enhancing drugs. During the sentencing hearing, the judge admonished her, saying that she knew what she was doing and would be punished accordingly. "The offenses here are serious. They each involve lies made three years apart," Karas said, adding that Jones's actions were "not a one-off mistake...but a repetition in an attempt to break the law."
Jones was ordered to surrender on March 11, 2008. She reported four days early, on March 7, at the Federal Medical Center, Carswell prison in Fort Worth and was assigned Federal Bureau of Prisons register no. 84868-054. She was released from prison on September 5, 2008.