Jones Is Cleared of Drug Violation
Thursday, September 7, 2006
Marion Jones learned yesterday she will not face anti-doping charges because testing on the second half of her urine sample did not confirm the positive result on the first, according to her attorneys.
Jones had tested positive for the endurance-boosting drug erythropoietin (EPO) at the U.S. track and field championships in June, but the result was not considered an official positive because the testing on the sample had not been completed.
Her attorney, Howard Jacobs, said he received a fax yesterday afternoon from the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency saying Jones's B sample did not confirm the A, indicating there was no case against her.
"I am absolutely ecstatic," Jones, a five-time Olympic medal winner, said in a statement. "I have always maintained that I have never ever taken performance enhancing drugs, and I am pleased that a scientific process has now demonstrated that fact. I am anxious to get back on the track."
Jones's case represents at least the second time a high-profile athlete tested positive for EPO but never faced doping charges. Kenyan distance runner Bernard Lagat produced a positive A sample for EPO at the 2005 world championships in Paris, but his name was cleared when the B did not support the A.
Anti-doping officials do not officially release A sample results because of the possibility the B won't support the A, but Jones's results were leaked. The Chicago Tribune first reported the B sample result on its Web site.
Jones had said she was "shocked" at the positive result on the A sample, but had issued no other public comments until yesterday. Jacobs said he found even the positive test on the A sample suspect, saying it was "right on the threshold" of a positive result based on the old criteria for a positive that were relaxed just over a year ago. Jacobs speculated that the criteria were loosened because testers felt too many athletes were getting away with using EPO.
"There have been a lot of people saying the test has been flawed for a while," Jacobs said. "I've been one of those people."
Testing for EPO requires three full days of lab work and is considered extremely complex and challenging. Last fall, after the EPO positive of triathlete Rutger Beke of Belgium was overturned on appeal, the World Anti-Doping Agency convened a meeting among its laboratory directors to discuss the test, though WADA Chairman Dick Pound insisted at the time the test was sound and reliable.
The EPO test was patented by French scientists and put into use shortly before the 2000 Summer Games in Sydney, and it is supposed to distinguish between naturally produced and artificial EPO. Critics have said that naturally produced EPO or other proteins can sometimes look like artificial EPO, thereby creating false positives. The testing on Jones's initial sample was conducted at the UCLA Analytical Laboratory in Los Angeles under the direction of Don Catlin, one of the most respected scientists in the field.
USADA attorney Travis Tygart did not immediately return a call seeking comment. Catlin also could not be reached.
Jones was having her finest summer in the sport since 2001 when she learned of the positive test on Aug. 18. She pulled out of a scheduled race in Zurich that night and flew home.
She had won the 100 meter title at the U.S. championships in Indianapolis on June 25, the day she produced a sample that came up positive in initial testing. She later won five major international races, finishing second in two others and three times running times under 11 seconds. At the time she left the international circuit last month, she was the second-ranked 100 runner in the world.
This summer's success was considered a major comeback for Jones, who took the 2002 season off to have a baby and then struggled to regain her form as she became entangled in the steroid scandal surrounding the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative (Balco) in 2003.
A disappointing 2004 season ended at the Summer Olympics in Athens, where she finished fifth in the long jump and was involved in a flubbed exchange in the 4x100 relay that cost the U.S. team a medal.
USADA has been investigating Jones for years, but she has stated that she has never used performance-enhancing drugs.
"She never had any explanation for how or why she tested positive in the first place, so this is certainly a great relief to her," Jacobs said. "They've been certainly targeting her for a long time. Whether the fact it was her had anything to do with the fact A [sample] leaked in the first place, I don't know, but it certainly doesn't look good. Somebody needs to look into how this information became public."