By Amy Shipley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 6, 2007
WHITE PLAINS, N.Y., Oct. 5 -- Onetime track superstar Marion Jones pleaded guilty Friday to two counts of lying to federal investigators and admitted in a packed U.S. District courtroom that she took steroids before the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, all but ensuring that she will be stripped of the five medals she won there.
Jones, 31, told Judge Kenneth M. Karas she ingested a steroid known as "the clear" between September 2000 and July 2001 at the behest of her coach, Trevor Graham, and later lied to investigators about using it. With her mother and three female supporters in the courtroom, Jones also admitted to lying about her role in an unrelated check-fraud scheme.
Outside the court building shortly after the 50-minute hearing, Jones repeatedly choked up with sobs as she stood with her mother and apologized, saying she was retiring from the sport and had "let my country down."
"It is with a great amount of shame I stand before you and tell you I have betrayed your trust," Jones said. "Making these false statements to federal agents was an incredibly stupid thing to do. . . . I have no one to blame but myself for what I have done."
Added Jones, who declined to answer questions and departed in a black limousine with her attorneys: "I want you to know I have been dishonest and you have a right to be angry with me. I have let my family down, let my country down and 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 I have caused you."
Jones's admission brings an ignominious end to the storied career of a woman once regarded as the greatest female athlete of all time. At the height of her popularity, Jones made no secret of her goal to win five gold medals at the 2000 Games. She fell short, but won three gold and two bronze medals. That feat now has been tainted by her plea.
Indeed, shortly after Jones's court appearance, U.S. Olympic Committee Chairman Peter Ueberroth demanded in a statement that she return the medals, saying "her acceptance of responsibility does not end with today's admission."
Jones, who is married to former sprinter Obadele Thompson, told the judge she now goes by Marion Jones-Thompson. She faces a maximum of 10 years imprisonment and $500,000 in fines, but is likely to receive no more than six months, according to federal sentencing guidelines. She will be sentenced Jan. 11, 2008.
Officials from the world track and field federation (IAAF) also vowed to seek a return of prize money Jones earned during the period she admitted doping.
Her admission in court Friday differed from what she relayed to family and friends in a letter she sent in advance of the hearing, in which she said she used the clear in 1999 and 2000. The Post obtained a copy of the letter.
"In 1999, my track coach Trevor Graham provided me with some nutritional supplements," Jones said, according to the letter. "There is one in particular that he called 'flaxseed oil.' He advised me to take this supplement by placing a few drops under my tongue and then swallow. . . . I trusted him and never thought for one second that he would jeopardize my career, nor his own. . . . He supplied me this for the 1999 and 2000 seasons."
IAAF spokesman Nick Davies estimated that Jones might have earned $1 million in competitions in 1999 and 2000. Jones, however, reportedly is almost broke. She resides in Austin with Thompson and the son she had with former track star Tim Montgomery.
"It's terrible what she's done to the sport," Davies said in a telephone interview. "She's dragging track and field through the mud."
Her fate rests in the hands of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, which is likely to bring a case against Jones in the coming weeks. Though the two-year ban she would face would be irrelevant given her retirement from the sport, the case would provide a basis for the International Olympic Committee to strip her of her Olympic medals and for other results to be nullified. U.S. Anti-Doping Agency chief executive Travis Tygart flew from the agency's headquarters in Colorado Springs to attend Friday's hearing.
Tygart declined to discuss her situation in particular, but said: "Anytime an athlete admits in open court to doping offenses, clean athletes expect USADA to hold them accountable. We fully intend to do that, even if it means removing medals from the Olympic Games."
The clear, also known as THG, is the powerful steroid at the center of the four-year-old investigation into the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative, a Burlingame, Calif.-based lab known as Balco that supplied steroids and other drugs to dozens of professional athletes. Jones represents the sixth conviction in the case, and the first athlete. Two officials from Balco, a sports trainer, a coach and a chemist have entered guilty pleas since 2004.
Graham, Jones's coach, was charged with three counts of lying to federal agents. His case goes to trial Nov. 26 and Jones is expected to be called as a witness. Echoing what she wrote in her letter, she said in court Friday that she did not know the substance he gave her was a steroid at the time she took it.
"I consumed this substance several times before the Sydney Games and continued using it afterward," she told the judge. "By November 2003, I realized Graham had given me a performance-enhancing drug."
Jones told the judge she lied to Balco investigators during a meeting on Nov. 4, 2003, when she denied using performance-enhancing drugs. She also said she lied to New York investigators in two separate meetings about a $25,000 check she received from Montgomery, who pleaded guilty for his role in a check-fraud scheme earlier this year.