120 years, 120 stories (Part 50) : Marion Jones and her story from HERO to ZERO


As the carnival at Rio heads into the second week, we are back with yet another edition for our Olympic Diaries, commemorating the 120 years of the modern-day Games. After celebrating many highs from various disciplines of the Games, today we bring you one of the most high profile doping scandals from the century-old sporting extravaganza.

We already talked about Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson and his fall from grace following a dope scandal that stripped him of his 100m gold at the Seoul Olympics in 1988. In this chapter, let us throw some light on the triple gold winner from the Sydney Games in 2000 – Marion Jones – who later had to return them back seven years after she was found to have used performance enhancing drugs.

Marion Jones – who was thought to be the Flo-Jo of her generation – was born in 1975 in Los Angeles to an African-American family. In her initial years, Jones was a professional basketball player who won California’s Division I Player of the Year award in 1993. However, a sequence of foot injuries evaporated her chances of being part of the American athletics team for the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. Her return to the basketball court perhaps healed that injury disappointment as she bagged the Most Valuable Player of the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament the following year.

Later in 1997, the American fired from all cylinders on the tracks of her very first international assignment. She won the 100 m sprint – the queen of all sprints – at the 1997 World Championships in Athens. She followed it up with another yellow medal – this time being a part of the winner’s team in the 100 m relay race. Two years hence, this time in Sevilla she defended her 100 m gold in addition to coming third in the long jump. However, an injury sustained during her 200 m race prevented her from farther participation at the event.

At 2000 Sydney, Jones made her Olympic debut in style. She bagged three golds – 100 m, 200 m and 4×400 m relay being the three events. In addition to it, she won a couple of bronzes in the long jump and 4×100 m relay. At that moment, it was one of the greatest achievements by a female track and field athlete in a single edition of the Games. However the athlete who won every meet in 2002 was brought to book in 2003 by a federal investigation into doping – the drugs being furnished by the Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative (BALCO).

Till that point when the investigators interrogated the sprinter, Jones was dismissive of it on grounds that she never failed a drug test in her career although there were many speculations of her taking performance boosting supplements all through her career right from high school athletic meets.

Two years post her final Olympic appearance at Athens – where she came fifth in the long jump – Marion Jones tested positive for the first time in a drug examination. However, she was cleared later on passing the subsequent test. Jones proximity to C. J. Hunter (her first husband, coach at Sydney), Tim Montgomery (the father of his first child) and various other professionals and coaches from local to national levels who from time to time had been implicated in doping scandals put the investigation lens zooming on her.

In October 2007, Jones admitted to taking steroids just before the Sydney Games and pleaded guilty before a district court in the United States. Jones admitted taking in Tetrahydrogestrinone (THG) which her coach Trevor Graham passed on to her under the impression of a flaxseed oil supplement. She too conceded lying to the BALCO investigators and hence was slapped with a six month imprisonment – cumulative of doping and another case of cheque-fraud – the court finding her guilty on breaking the laws repetitively and hence intentionally.

In December 2007 – two months after Jones’ admittance and surrender of her Olympic medals – the International Olympic Committee stripped the female athlete of all her Olympic credentials and participations. She was barred from being a part of the Olympics in any manner whatsoever.

Thus what could possibly have been a glorious story of one winning five medals at a go turned into a shameful saga of one of the greatest cheating scandals of all time.


Photo by The Puzzler