In the fallout yesterday from Marion Jones' New York courtroom admission that she has been powered by something more potent than mere natural talent, an unlikely defender emerged to say that she should be allowed to keep the record quintet of medals she won at the Sydney Olympics in 2000. "People ask me if her achievements are tainted," Victor Conte said in an interview with USA Today. "In my opinion the overwhelming majority of athletes Marion competed against in 2000 were also using performance enhancing substances, so I believe she deserves the medals."
This from the man who masterminded the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative (BALCO) designer steroid production and administration ring in which Jones has finally confessed her involvement – the man whom Jones sued for $25m in defamation when he claimed that Jones had knowingly used performance enhancing drugs and that he had seen her inject herself with them. The case was settled out of court.
The nightmare for track and field – its reputation at global elite level having been shot to pieces by the drawn-out BALCO affair – is that the Olympic 100m title that Jones won in Sydney is now likely to be passed on to Katerina Thanou, the Greek sprinter who returned to competition earlier this year after serving a two-year ban for missing three drug tests in 17 days in the run-up to the Athens Olympics in 2004. Thanou still faces action in the Greek courts about her purported involvement in a motorbike crash with Konstantinos Kenteris after the training partners fled the athletes village, and a drug testing team, on the eve of the Athens Games. "It is very unfortunate," Nick Davies, communications director of the International Association of Athletics Federations, said. "The second place [finisher in the 2000 Olympic race] is a convicted drugs cheat."
It is highly fortunate, however, that Trevor Graham, Jones' former coach, sent a syringe containing the designer steroid tetrahydrogestrinone (THG) to the anti-doping authorities in the United States. Otherwise, Jones and the other athletes on BALCO's books, among them the British sprinter Dwain Chambers, would never have been revealed as drugs cheats. "It's the destruction of a heroine of the day," Dick Pound, chairman of the World Anti-Doping Agency, said. "It's sad on one level, but it's still tawdry cheating at another level. All the people who have been part of that [the BALCO] system have been busted. You hope it's the end of the batch of bad apples and the new generation has learned from it, but we'll see."