Athletics: Jones fights to clear her route to Athens

Balco cloud over Hunter forces golden girl's hand
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The Independent Online

Marion Jones was attempting to manoeuvre herself off the ropes yesterday as the shadow of a heavyweight loomed over her Olympic hopes for a second time in four years. In Sydney in 2000 her "drive for five" Olympic golds was undermined by the revelation that her husband at the time, the 23-stone C J Hunter, had failed four tests for anabolic steroids.

Marion Jones was attempting to manoeuvre herself off the ropes yesterday as the shadow of a heavyweight loomed over her Olympic hopes for a second time in four years. In Sydney in 2000 her "drive for five" Olympic golds was undermined by the revelation that her husband at the time, the 23-stone C J Hunter, had failed four tests for anabolic steroids.

Four years on, Jones's hopes of even making it to Athens could be threatened by the former shot-putter, who last week met the federal authorities investigating the drugs case against Balco that has led the United States Anti-Doping Agency to scrutinise his former wife's links with the Californian laboratory.

Yesterday, in an attempt to stop the USADA taking action that might prevent her from competing in Athens, Jones asked the US Attorney's office to release the testimony she gave in November at a federal grand jury hearing. In a statement, her lawyer, Joseph Burton, maintained: "The sworn testimony will confirm what Marion has said publicly time after time, what she said during the three-hour meeting she requested with USADA on 24 May, and what is confirmed by the more than 160 drug tests she has taken: she has never, ever, used performance- enhancing drugs."

The statement called the runner's request an "extraordinary step" and added: "Marion is continuing to do all she can to co-operate... She has passed every drug test she has been given... If fairness exists in this process, USADA now needs to let her move forward with her life."

That much is unlikely, given that the USADA has provided Jones's lawyers with documents they believe may be a schedule of steroid use - alleged evidence with which Hunter, as a potential witness, could help the anti-doping agency.

One document seized during a raid of the Balco offices included a notation allegedly pertaining to Jones, reading: "G before from C J." A $7,350 (£4,040) cheque made out to Balco from Jones's bank account was also discovered, reportedly signed by Hunter.

Hunter's lawyer, Angela DeMent, confirmed that he had met federal authorities but said she could not comment on whether Jones's name had been raised in the discussions. "C J Hunter intends to continue co-operating with all relevant governmental and law enforcement entities," she said. "He's doing it because the government wants him to fully co-operate. He did not speak voluntarily."

Hunter, who was divorced from Jones in 2002, is understood to be upset by claims in her forthcoming autobiography, Marion Jones, Life in the Fast Lane, that he knew he had been cheating before news broke in Sydney that he had tested positive on four separate occasions for the anabolic steroid nandrolone, registering 1,000 times above the allowable limit.

"The whole business was sounding more and more suspicious to me," Jones writes. "I could see how one test, even two tests, could have gone wrong - but four separate tests had come back positive. How could he not have known something?"

At a press conference last Tuesday, Jones was asked whether she had been tainted by her association with Hunter. She replied: "Once I found out what my ex-husband did, or was alleged to have done, I parted ways."

It was different in Sydney, where Jones interrupted her "drive for five" to stand by her man at a press conference. She was supported by Victor Conte, the owner of Balco, who claimed Hunter had been the innocent victim of contaminated supplements, and by Johnnie Cochrane, the lawyer who was O J Simpson's courtroom saviour and who helped Jones escape punishment after she failed to attend a drugs test as a 16-year-old high-school sprinter. Jones had already won the Olympic 100m final but subsequently had to settle for three golds, winning the 200m and helping the US 4 x 400m relay team to victory, but taking bronze from the long jump and 4 x 100m relay.

Her current partner, Tim Montgomery, is one of four athletes who have been given until tomorrow to respond to notification that the USADA intend to take action against them for "participating in a conspiracy to violate sport anti-doping rules."

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