Although Marion Jones was not among four athletes to receive letters of possible drug violations, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency isn’t done with her.
The sweeping drug scandal, which has taken down four top track athletes, threatens to bar several more, and the sport’s biggest star, Jones, remains under investigation.
So, when the U.S. track and field team for the Athens Olympics is chosen in July, there’s no telling who will be allowed to show up.
Jones, who met with USADA officials last month to discuss possible doping evidence against her, received a letter from the agency Tuesday asking follow-up questions.
“USADA asked us the same questions they asked us during our May 24 meeting with them,” said a representative for Jones, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
USADA spokesman Rich Wanninger said Wednesday he could not comment on the case involving Jones, who won an unprecedented five track medals, three of them gold, at the 2000 Olympics.
Jones’ boyfriend, 100-meter world record holder Tim Montgomery, was among four prospective Olympic medalists who received letters Tuesday informing them the USADA is pursuing possible doping cases against them that could result in bans from the Athens Games.
Jones, who has an almost 1-year-old son with Montgomery, issued a statement after placing third in the long jump Tuesday at a track meet in the Czech Republic.
“Tim Montgomery is a good person, a great athlete and an even better father,” she said. “I support him and believe in him, and I have no doubt that if a fair process is applied that Tim will be racing for gold in Athens this August.”
Sources close to the situation, speaking on condition of anonymity, identified the other three athletes who received USADA letters as Alvin Harrison, an Olympic silver medalist in the 400 meters, and sprinters Chryste Gaines and Michelle Collins. Gaines is a two-time Olympic relay medalist, and Collins was the 2003 world indoor champion in the 200.
The letters to Montgomery and the other three are the first formal step in USADA’s attempt to punish athletes based on documentary or testimonial evidence instead of a positive drug test. If found to have committed doping offenses, the athletes could face two-year bans.
Montgomery’s lawyer, Cristina Arguedas, said her client has done nothing wrong and he will fight any attempt to keep him from running in the U.S. Olympic Trials in Sacramento, Calif., on July 9-18 or at the Aug. 13-29 Summer Games.
“It is fundamentally unfair to try to take away an athlete’s reputation, their work and their dreams based on meager information, flimsy documents and a flawed process,” Arguedas said. “The United States should have the right to put its best athletes on the Olympic team.”
Jones, too, has threatened to sue if the USADA tries to bar her from the Olympics.
Under USADA regulations, Montgomery and the other three athletes have 10 days to respond to the letter. Everything is then forwarded to a USADA review board, which recommends whether to proceed with a case. If USADA decides to file charges, the athlete is formally notified. The athletes then have 10 days to decide whether to accept punishment or appeal to an arbitration panel or the Swiss-based Court of Arbitration for Sport.
Although such a process normally takes months, the USADA also has the power to expedite cases. That’s what happened in 2002 with U.S. bobsledder Pavle Jovanovic, who was banned right before the Salt Lake City Olympics after a 32-day procedure.
The USADA issued the letters after reviewing thousands of pages from the federal probe into the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative, which is accused of being at the center of a steroid-distribution ring. The material was given to the USADA by a Senate committee last month in hopes of guaranteeing a drug-free U.S. Olympic team.
Jones, along with Montgomery and the other three athletes, testified last fall before the grand jury probing BALCO.
BALCO founder Victor Conte and three other men, including Barry Bonds’ personal trainer, are charged with illegally distributing steroids to athletes. Among those charged is Remy Korchemny, Gaines’ coach. All four have pleaded innocent. No athletes have been charged.
Kelli White, another of Korchemny’s students, admitted to doping offenses last month based on documents from the BALCO case. White, who would have been a medal favorite in the sprints at the Athens Games, accepted a two-year ban and was stripped of her world titles in the 100 and 200 meters.