Athletics: Jones takes court action over Conte's drug claims

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The Independent Online

Marion Jones, the American athlete, filed a defamation lawsuit last night against the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative leader, Victor Conte, who told an American television audience that he gave her steroids and watched her inject herself with them.

Jones is seeking $25m (£13m) in the suit, alleging that Conte tarnished her reputation when he made the statement on 3 December on the programme 20/20.

Conte and three others connected to the laboratory were indicted in February by a federal grand jury for a variety of alleged offences, including illegally distributing steroids.

The suit, filed in San Francisco, said that Jones had passed a lie detector test and 160 doping tests, including five at the 2000 Olympics, and included a statement from her doctor saying she "has never taken banned performance-enhancing drugs".

It claims that Conte's motive to concede steroid distribution ahead of his criminal prosecution "appears motivated by a desire to curry favour with prosecutors, garner sensationalised media attention, bolster Conte's own financial and other self interests and harm an individual against whom Conte has a long-standing grudge".

Conte responded last night to the lawsuit by saying: "This is nothing more than a PR stunt by a desperate woman, who has regularly used drugs throughout her career. I look forward with all confidence to the court proceedings as I stand by everything I said on 20/20. I am telling the truth and Marion is lying."

Conte's statements, the suit maintained, "are false and malicious. [He] seeks to take full credit for all of her past successes, falsely asserting that Jones' five Olympic medals in 2000 were the product of his illegal doping regimen instead of Jones' true talent." Jones won three gold medals and two bronzes during the Sydney Games, but failed to win any medals during August's Athens Olympics.

Conte, the Balco vice-president, James Valente, the athletics coach Remi Korchemny and Greg Anderson, who is the personal trainer for the baseball player Barry Bonds, face federal indictment on a range of accusations including distributing steroids and possession of human growth hormone. All have pleaded not guilty.

Conte said on 20/20: "I think she made her decision, and she's going to have to be accountable to the consequences of her decision. If she said she didn't use drugs, then she lied."

In the lawsuit, one of Jones' doctors said she never exhibited the physical signs of an athlete taking banned substances.