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Tuesday, July 13, 2004  

Commentary: Feeling for Marion Jones

I tend to be a fairly empathetic person. That means not forming a definite opinion about people accused of wrongdoing until I know most or all the facts available. I was sympathetic to the Portland Seven until the guilty pleas began. I hope Michael Jackson is not a child molester. I did not make up my mind about O.J. Simpson until after I was sure he had motive, means and opportunity to kill two people -- not to mention leaving his DNA on the scene. So, my inclination is to believe Marion Jones, the Olympian whose supposed involvement with the BALCO doping scandal has been widely discussed, is innocent. Jones (pictured) has not been charged by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, but the allegations cloud what should have been a glowing future for the athlete who won five medals in 2000. In fact, a pattern of poor performances at the Olympic trials by athletes associated with the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative (BALCO) has emerged. Guilty or blameless, their ability to perform is deteriorating.

The stress seems to be taking a toll on Jones, who has failed to qualify for her best event in this year's Olympics. Tim Layden, writing at CNN commented on the disappointing news.

Jones' fifth-place finish in the 100-meter final was staggering only in the moment it occurred. To see the erstwhile Mrs. Jones, winner of five medals in Sydney, holder of the seven fastest non-Flo-Jo 100-meter times in history and at her best an overwhelming presence on the track, flatten out at 50 meters and struggle home deep in the field was briefly disorienting

However, Layden dismisses the trauma of being the central figure in an embarrassing episode as irrelevant to Jones' failure.

Was she distracted from preparation by the Balco scandal? No sale. Sprinters train a few hours a day. She's supposed to be a professional and, what's more, it's her own high-priced legal and PR team that has pushed Jones to the front of the Balco Affair with an aggressive and questionably pre-emptive strategy.

He is less sure of himself in regard to Jones' giving birth last year, saying it may be an explanation or part of one. He hints Jones performs well when using steroids and poorly when not. However, Jones' high school and college records, and her early post-college performances, before she was associated with the BALCO circle, belie that. An athlete who was dependent on performance enhancing drugs would not have earned the stature Jones did earlier. Indeed, much of the taint of Jones is derived from her choices in partners. Her ex-husband, C.J. Hunter, is a shot putter who is said to have failed doping tests four times. Jones' fiance and the father of her son, Tim Montgomery, the world record-holder in the 100 meters, has allegedly admitted use of steroids in grand jury testimony. Her former coach is also a central figure in the scandal.

The aspect of the situation that makes me feel for Jones is this: At this time, it does not matter whether the doping allegations are true. The anxiety, depression and reputational damage occur when a person is accused, whether the accusations are ever proven to be well-founded or not. In my youth, I was naive enough to believe people could just ignore the travails they face and carry on as usual. But, older and wiser, I now know that stress under adversity is the norm of the human physiology. Under the circumstances, Jones will suffer. There is no escaping the mental and physical effects of difficult situations -- even if you are the fastest woman in the world.

Reasonably related

•See the accomplishments of America's best female athlete.

ABC News reports Marion Jones qualified for the finals in the long jump, for which she is the record holder, but just barely. There is still a chance she will be eliminated before the Olympics.

6:00 PM