U.S. Anti-Doping Agency officials presented Marion Jones with evidence of anti-doping violations and indicated that the five-time Olympic medalist was under investigation by USADA during a meeting between Jones, her lawyers and USADA officials in Colorado Springs yesterday, according to Jones's attorney.
The attorney, Joseph Burton, also said he was concerned USADA would take action against Jones but described the evidence the agency possessed as "not convincing" and derided the fact that USADA has been unable to obtain any of 160 urine samples Jones has provided throughout her career to retest for banned drugs.
"The bottom line is I didn't see anything today that would provide a basis for them to go forward," Burton said. "In my mind, what ought to come out of this is she should be exonerated."
Burton said either a positive test result or an admission of wrongdoing was necessary to build a legitimate case against an athlete, a stance USADA disputed in a statement released soon after Burton spoke by conference call with reporters.
Last week, two-time world champion Kelli White was banned from the sport for two years after admitting she took a variety of performance-enhancing drugs, but the admission came after USADA presented her with evidence of drug use.
USADA officials have said that they would attempt to bar athletes from the 2004 Summer Games in Athens if there is sufficient evidence even if positive drug tests don't exist; a policy allowing for prosecution based on "non-analytical positives" could allow USADA to take action. The organization received thousands of pages of documents two weeks ago from a raid last fall of the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative (BALCO), which is at the center of a federal steroid investigation.
Burton said it appeared that USADA's evidence against Jones, which he declined to describe, came at least in part from BALCO documents.
"We saw what they would believe would be evidence," Burton said. "How good it is or how strong it is is something for another day . . . our position is she hasn't taken performance-enhancing drugs ever. And you can test for it at any time in her life."
Jones, who testified before the grand jury in the BALCO case, has publicly acknowledged having what Burton described yesterday as a "minimal" relationship with BALCO founder Victor Conte Jr., who has been indicted on federal steroid distribution charges. But in a statement yesterday, Jones said that she has never taken "an illegal performance-enhancing substance."
In USADA's statement, attorney Travis Tygart said the agency requested the presence of a court reporter at yesterday's meeting to record the interview but noted that Jones had rejected the request. Tygart also disputed Burton's assessment of what constituted sufficient evidence to prosecute an athlete for a drug violation.
"I am aware of Mr. Burton's comments following today's meeting," Tygart said in the statement. "It is clear from those comments that Mr. Burton rejects the idea of a non-analytical positive and contends that only athletes who test positive or admit to a violation can be sanctioned. Without commenting on the specifics of any case, USADA confirms that Mr. Burton is absolutely incorrect in his position."
Burton requested yesterday's meeting in a letter to USADA last week, making clear that it shouldn't be construed as a negotiation. Burton added that he was uncertain what USADA would do next.
"They didn't give me what I wanted -- to say there is no evidence and no reason to go forward on any purported drug violations by Marion Jones," Burton said. "We ended [the meeting] by pleading with them to carefully consider everything and as quickly as possible to come out and exonerate her."
In the USADA statement, Tygart said the information collected from the meeting would be added to the evidence it had assembled from the BALCO files.
Though it is unclear if or when USADA will act against Jones, USADA officials have indicated they hope to complete any prosecutions they undertake by the July 8 start of the U.S. Olympic trials. This past weekend, Jones won a 100-meter race and a long jump competition at a meet in Carson, Calif.
"I have called for the testing of any or all of my past samples," Jones said in her statement. "I have cooperated fully and in good faith with the Justice Department's investigation. . . . Today I answered each and every question that USADA had and there is nothing more I can do. It is time to allow me to put this issue behind me once and for all."