Superstar sprinter Marion Jones on Sunday lashed out at the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency's plan to use evidence of drug use to ban U.S. athletes who have not failed drug tests from the 2004 Summer Games, calling the approach "totally unfair" and vowing to sue if USADA attempted to bar her from the Olympics.
Jones, who said she has always been a "drug-free" athlete, criticized the organization for relying on information from a federal raid of the Bay Area lab (BALCO) to build cases against U.S. athletes so they can be excluded from the U.S. team before the July 21 Olympic roster deadline.
"We live in the United States, where people are innocent until they are found guilty," said Jones, who won five medals at the 2000 Summer Games in Sydney and is considered the most famous female track and field athlete in the world. "What USADA is trying to do is find [athletes] guilty without any form of investigation. . . .
"If I make the Olympic team . . . and I am held from the Olympic Games because of something somebody thought, you can pretty much bet there will be lawsuits. I'm not just going to sit down and let someone or a group of people or an organization take away my livelihood because of a hunch, because of a thought, because somebody's trying to show their power."
Jones, in the midst of a return to the sport after giving birth to her first child last summer, declined to elaborate on her association with BALCO and its founder, Victor Conte, who is among four men connected to the lab who have been indicted on federal steroid and drug charges. She said she had been told by her public relations advisors and lawyers not to talk about the case.
The father of Jones's child, Tim Montgomery, did not show up for Sunday's news conference in a Manhattan hotel ballroom because he has the flu, according to USA Track and Field spokeswoman Jill Geer.
Two Bay Area newspapers reported that Conte told federal investigators that Jones and Montgomery were among 27 athletes in track and field, Major League Baseball and the NFL who had received performance-enhancing drugs from him. Jones testified before the grand jury in the case last fall.
When asked if she believed whether USADA might have any information that could be used to bar her from the Games, she said, "at this point, no." No one from the organization had contacted her, she said.
Despite her comments about USADA's approach to its investigation, she credited the organization with attempting to clean up the Olympic movement.
"USADA is trying to do the right thing," she said. "Overall, they are trying to look out for the rights of athletes in making sure we compete in a drug-free sport."
She also said she understood the scrutiny she is under. In the summer of 2000, C.J. Hunter, Jones's then-husband, tested positive for the steroid nandrolone several times.
"This is not fun to have to talk about this," Jones said. ". . . I'm one of the best in my sport, an elite athlete, a cover girl for track and field. . . . You have to expect that I will be asked questions about things that . . . feel uncomfortable."
USADA and U.S. Olympic Committee officials say their rules allow for the prosecution of athletes on the basis of non-analytical positives -- evidence of drug use not supported by positive results in urine tests. Officials say that approach is their only recourse against athletes savvy enough to obtain drugs specifically engineered to beat standard drug tests.
"If that's what they're doing, that's not a correct approach," Jones said. "I don't know what is, but I don't think that's the correct approach to take."
Jones said she thought testing the blood of athletes would be a better way of catching cheaters.
"What else do you do?" she said. "Do you take a lie detector test in the doping room?"
USADA spokesman Rich Wanninger declined to comment on Jones's remarks.
USADA last weekend received thousands of pages of documents seized last fall in a federal raid of BALCO, some of which implicate a number of "recognizable" athletes, according to a source familiar with the information. USADA has announced no course of action yet. A source said USADA officials are in the midst of preparing cases against some athletes and hope to complete the work before the start of the Olympic trials in track and field July 8.
Senate Commerce Committee Chair John McCain (R-Ariz.) had subpoenaed the documents from the Department of Justice in order to determine the extent of drug use among U.S. athletes, and the Commerce Committee voted to turn those over to USADA after USADA CEO Terry Madden and USOC President Bill Martin requested them.
A Web site connected to Conte and BALCO (www.snacsystem.com) claims in an obviously dated article (it refers to Trevor Jones, with whom Jones hasn't worked for more than a year, as her coach) that Jones's supplement regimen was designed by Conte. In the article, Jones lauds Conte's legal zinc-magnesium supplement ZMA.
"I had a number of tests done on my blood at BALCO," the Web site quotes Jones as saying. "I learned that I was really deficient in zinc and magnesium. . . . A couple of times a month I get tested to see what's going on inside me, and we'll make a couple of adjustments. I'm quite confident that when it comes to competition, I'll be ready to go."
Jones said Sunday that she still uses ZMA. She said she endorsed the product in the article simply because she believed it was a good product.
"I'm sitting up here today and endorsing it," she said.