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No way to clear her conscience

So we now know that Marion Jones is guilty of a lot worse than getting involved with the wrong men.

We know that she won five medals at the Sydney Olympics with the aid of a steroid, which she claims was given to her by her coach, Trevor Graham.

We know that she cheated and repeatedly lied about it, with the Washington Post reporting Thursday that Jones acknowledged using “the clear,” the designer steroid at the center of the BALCO scandal, a year before the Games and for a year afterward.

The Post also said she plans to plead guilty today in federal court in New York to two counts of lying to federal agents about her drug use and a separate financial matter. She could go to jail for up to six months, she wrote in a letter intended for friends and family, one of whom read the letter to a Post reporter.

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“I want to apologize for all of this,” she said, the Post quoted the person reading the letter. “I am sorry for disappointing you all in so many ways.”

Tell that to everyone who paid to see her compete or who played by the rules when they ran and jumped against her.

Tell that to people who cheered her when she first drew notice in high school, at Oxnard’s Rio Mesa and later at Thousand Oaks. People who saw her on magazine covers and in glossy advertisements before the 2000 Games, when she was touted as perhaps the greatest female athlete in the world. People who admired her raw power and boundless talent and considered her a role model.

She wavered on her pedestal when she hitched her destiny to shotputter C.J. Hunter, a drug cheat whose accusations that she used drugs at Sydney take on new credibility.

She teetered when she aligned herself with Graham, who faces his own trial later this year for lying to federal authorities in the BALCO investigation.

She wobbled when she became involved with Tim Montgomery, the sprinter who lost his world record in the 100-meter dash and was banned from competition for two years based on analytical evidence about his drug use.

She tumbled off that pedestal entirely Thursday.

It turns out that she wasn’t hanging out with the wrong people.

She was the wrong people.

This would normally be a good place and time to unleash a torrent of righteous indignation, to condemn Jones and the mentality that corrupted her so deeply that she could have lied to so many people for so long.

But I can’t find the fire and brimstone. The hints of her guilt have been so overwhelming that her long-overdue confession is hollow. Almost a technicality.

She cheated? Tell me something I don’t know.

It’s not a surprise. But it is sad.

Not for Jones.

She brought this on herself, even if she still can’t quite admit it. In her letter, she said she believed Graham’s claim that the substance he gave her was flaxseed oil. Even if she were that naive -- and she was a bright and determined woman -- she was still responsible for anything she ingested. Funny how you can justify the unjustifiable if you try hard enough.

It’s a sad day for athletes who were clean when they competed against her during a career in which she won 14 U.S. titles in the sprints and long jump and five medals at the world championships.

And sadder still for her teammates on the gold medal-winning 1,600-meter relay and third-place 400-meter relay at Sydney because they might lose their medals if the International Olympic Committee revokes Jones’ ill-gotten gains.

As it should.

Long under investigation by U.S. and international anti-doping authorities for possible drug use, Jones had always defended herself by saying she had never tested positive for a performance-enhancing substance. The closest she came was a positive test for erythropoietin at last year’s U.S. championships, a result that was invalidated when the backup sample tested negative.

She avoided a conclusive positive test because chemists concocting substances such as the clear had managed to remain a step ahead of the anti-doping laboratories’ ability to devise tests to detect them.

Finally, she could no longer outrun her conscience, and she’s left holding the bag.

And it’s not full of flaxseed oil.

Helene Elliott can be reached at helene.elliott@latimes.com. To read previous columns by Elliott, go to latimes.com/elliott.


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