Marion Jones retires after pleading guilty

Five-time Olympic medallist Marion Jones announced her retirement after pleading guilty to two charges of lying to U.S. federal agents on Friday.

For years, Marion Jones angrily denied using steroids. On Friday, she admitted it was all a lie.

The three-time Olympic gold medallist pleaded guilty to lying to federal investigators when she denied using performance-enhancing drugs, and announced her retirement after the hearing. Jones also pleaded guilty to a second count of lying to investigators about her association with a check-fraud scheme.

Outside the U.S. District Court in White Plains, N.Y., Jones broke down in tears as she apologized for her actions, saying she understands she has disappointed her friends, family and supporters.

"I want you to know that I have been dishonest and you have the right to be angry with me," said, pausing frequently to regain her composure while her mother stood behind her, a supportive hand on Jones' shoulder. "I have let [my family] down. I have let my country down, and I have let myself down.

"I recognize that by saying I'm deeply sorry, it might not be enough and sufficient to address the pain and hurt that I've caused you. Therefore, I want to ask for your forgiveness for my actions, and I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive me."

After her tearful statement, Jones, her mother and her lawyer drove away in a black limousine. She did not take questions.

Friday marked a stunning fall from grace for Jones, once the most celebrated female athlete in the world. She captivated the country with the audacious goal of winning five gold medals at the Sydney Olympics. Though she fell short — only three of her five medals were gold, the other two bronze — her winsome smile and charming personality made her a star.
Marion Jones, right, is escorted to the federal courthouse in White Plains, N.Y., on Friday. ((Mary Altaffer/Associated Press))

Seven years later, she is broke, her reputation is ruined and she is looking at prison time.

In court, Jones, seated at the defence table and speaking in a clear voice through a microphone, said she lied to a federal investigator in November 2003 when he asked if she had used performance-enhancing drugs.

"I answered that I had not. This was a lie, your honour," she said.

Graham 'told me not to tell anyone'

Jones said she took steroids from September 2000 to July 2001 and said she was told by her then-coach Trevor Graham that she was taking flaxseed oil when it was actually "the clear." That's a performance-enhancing drug linked to BALCO, the lab at the centre of the steroids scandal in professional sports.

"By November 2003, I realized he was giving me performance-enhancing drugs," Jones told the judge.

She said she "felt different, trained more intensely" and experienced "faster recovery and better times" while using the substance.

"He told me to put it under my tongue for a few seconds and swallow it," she said. "He told me not to tell anyone."

Home run king Barry Bonds also has been linked to the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative, and was one of more than two dozen athletes who testified before a federal grand jury in 2003.
Marion Jones and Trevor Graham watch film at a 1999 training session in Raleigh, N.C. ((Scott Sharpe/The News & Observer/Associated Press))

Bonds denied ever knowingly taking performance-enhancing drugs, saying he believed a clear substance and a cream, given to him by his trainer, were flaxseed oil and an arthritis balm.

Jones was released on her own recognizance and was due back in court Jan. 11 for sentencing. Prosecutors have suggested to Jones that the prison term will be a maximum of six months, although the judge has the discretion to change that. The maximum sentence on each count is five years and a $250,000 fine.

"It's bittersweet," said Travis Tygart, chief executive officer of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency. "Any time a potential American hero admits to cheating us sports fans, people who watch Olympic games, it's bittersweet. Similarly, clean athletes who do it right, who do it ethically, who play by the rules, and honourably, I think have a sense of vindication today."

The International Olympic Committee already has opened an investigation into doping allegations against Jones in December 2004, and said Friday it will step up its probe and move quickly to strip her of her medals.

'Wrong choices can be disastrous,' Jones says

"Her admission is long overdue and underscores the shame and dishonour that are inherent with cheating," U.S. Olympic Committee chairman Peter Ueberroth said in a statement. "As further recognition of her complicity in this matter, Ms. Jones should immediately step forward and return the Olympic medals she won while competing in violation of the rules."

In Jones' case, that would include the 2000 Olympics, where she won gold in the 100 metres, 200 metres and 1,600-metre relay and bronze in the long jump and 400-metre relay.

Jones also would have faced a long competition ban from USADA, but that could be a moot point with her retirement.

"I promise that these events will be used to make the lives of many people improve," Jones said, "that by making the wrong choices and bad decisions can be disastrous."

Suspicions and doping allegations have dogged Jones for years. Her ex-husband, C.J. Hunter, was busted for doping, and Tim Montgomery, the father of her son Monty, was stripped of his world record in the 100 meters in connection with the BALCO case.

Jones herself was one of the athletes who testified before a grand jury in 2003 in the BALCO investigation. In August 2006, one of her urine samples tested positive for EPO, but she was cleared when a backup sample tested negative.

She had vehemently denied all doping allegations, even issuing this emphatic declaration in 2004: "I have never, ever used performance-enhancing drugs." She also sued BALCO founder Victor Conte after he repeatedly accused Jones of using performance-enhancing drugs and said he watched her inject herself.

A Sept. 3, 2003, search warrant at BALCO uncovered ledgers, purchases, doping calendars, and various blood-test results connected to Jones and Graham, said Matt Parrella, a federal prosecutor in Northern California.

"The fact that she was using the performance-enhancing drugs is not a surprise. People suspected strongly or knew, but couldn't prove the use," said Dick Pound, chairman of the World Anti-Doping Agency.

"When something seems too good to be true, it probably is."