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Jones Is the Latest to Fail a Drug Test

Times Staff Writer

Five-time Olympic medalist Marion Jones failed a drug test at the U.S. track and field national championships in Indianapolis in June, testing positive for a banned endurance booster, a source familiar with the results said Friday.

Jones, 30, among the most famous woman athletes in the world, has not been accused of a doping violation. The irregularities emerged in initial testing, on the so-called “A sample,” said the source, who requested anonymity. Tests on the second part of the sample, the “B sample,” are not complete. Only if the B sample also comes back positive for erythropoietin, or EPO, would authorities consider a case against Jones.

Dogged for years by doping allegations, Jones has consistently maintained her innocence. She could not be reached Friday for comment. Nor could her longtime lawyer, Richard M. Nichols, or her agent, Charlie Wells.

Jones is the third star U.S. athlete this summer to confront doping-related allegations.

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Floyd Landis, winner of the Tour de France, registered an “unusual” testosterone ratio in a sample provided July 20 after his stirring breakaway Stage 17 win in the Alps. Officials have also said Landis’ sample showed evidence of synthetic testosterone. He denied wrongdoing.

Two days after Landis’ initial test results were made public, it was announced that another U.S. track and field standout, sprinter Justin Gatlin, tested positive in April for testosterone. Gatlin won the 100-meter dash at the Athens 2004 Olympics and at last year’s track and field world championships; in May, he tied Jamaican Asafa Powell’s world record in the 100, 9.77 seconds. Gatlin also has denied misconduct.

Asked Friday about Jones, U.S. track and field officials declined to comment. So too did U.S. Olympic Committee officials.

A doping violation naming Jones, if one were to be filed, would be prosecuted by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency. Agency officials declined to comment.

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Jones’ record includes a 1992 suspension handed down by USA Track & Field for failing to show up for a random drug test. At the time, she was still a student at Thousand Oaks High School. Famed lawyer Johnnie Cochran Jr. handled her case on appeal, arguing that neither she nor her coach had received notification of the test, and he won.

Jones holds 12 of the fastest 20 100-meter times in history. Her best, 10.65 seconds in South Africa in 1998, stands fourth on the all-time list; Florence Griffith-Joyner holds the top three times, including a world-record 10.49, set in Indianapolis in 1988.

At the Sydney Olympics in 2000, Jones won five medals, three gold -- in the 1,600-meter relay, the 200 and the 100 in 10.75 seconds. She also won bronze in the 400-meter relay and in the long jump.

Since her star turn in Sydney, however, Jones’ career had slowed considerably. She failed to qualify for the individual sprints at the 2004 Games in Athens, making the U.S. team only in the long jump, in which she finished fifth. Jones was also named to the U.S. 400-meter relay team at the Games, but the U.S. women did not finish, doomed by a botched handoff.

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Jones’ struggles came as she repeatedly fended off allegations connected to the federal investigation of BALCO, the Bay Area Laboratory Cooperative in Burlingame, Calif. BALCO, advertised as a nutritional supplements firm, distributed steroids and other banned substances to elite athletes, according to authorities.

In 2003, Internal Revenue Service special agent Jeff Novitzky, in a report recounting an interview with BALCO founder Victor Conte, asserted that Conte gave Jones illicit steroids nicknamed “the cream” and “the clear” in exchange for her endorsement of a zinc-based Conte nutritional supplement.

In a December 2004 appearance on ABC’s “20/20,” Conte said he had not only supplied Jones with banned substances but had watched her inject herself with human growth hormone. She sued for defamation, alleging $25 million in damages. The case was settled in February; terms were not disclosed.

Last year, officials at some of Europe’s leading meets made it clear she was not welcome on the lucrative circuit, citing concerns tied to the BALCO investigation.

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Suspicions have also swirled around Jones because of the men in her life.

Jones was formerly married to champion shotputter C.J. Hunter. He tested positive four times in the summer of 2000, before the Sydney Games, for the banned steroid nandrolone, Olympic officials said. He said he had never knowingly ingested it. Later, he and Jones split.

In 2003, Jones gave birth to a son. The father, sprinter Tim Montgomery, had set what was then a world record 9.78 seconds in the 100 in 2002. Last December, he was stripped of that record and issued a two-year suspension because of doping.

Jones used to be trained by Raleigh, N.C.-based coach Trevor Graham, who earlier this month was banned from USOC workout facilities because of his links to more than half a dozen athletes sanctioned or implicated in doping offenses, including Montgomery and Gatlin.

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It was Graham who sent a syringe containing a then-unknown designer steroid to the anti-doping agency in 2003, sparking the BALCO scandal. The New York Times reported that he is currently a focus of a federal inquiry. He has consistently denied misconduct.

This summer, her body looking like sculpted marble, Jones started winning again -- showing a remarkable leap from her last year’s best in the 100, a comparatively pedestrian 11.28.

In Paris on July 8, Jones ran a winning 10.92 and, at a meet three days later in Lausanne, Switzerland, won in 10.94.

In Rome on July 14, Jones ran her best 100 in four years, 10.91. In that race, she finished just behind Jamaica’s Sherone Simpson, first in 10.87 seconds.

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Three weeks before, on June 23 at the U.S. nationals in Indianapolis, running in the stadium where nine years before she won her first national title, Jones won the 100 in 11.10.

Afterward, she told the crowd through the public address system, “I feel good. I’m back, and doing my thing.”

Jones was scheduled to run Friday at a meet in Zurich, Switzerland. Meet director Hansjorg Wirz told the Associated Press that Jones “received a phone call from the United States this morning and left for personal reasons.”


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