How last Oprah confession by Marion Jones hit a bum note

As Lance Armstrong chats to talk show queen, Simon Turnbull recalls disgraced sprinter Marion Jones' appearance – a whitewash that did nothing to save her reputation

What now for Lance Armstrong after his opening night at the Oprah? Of course, the Tour de France villain is not the first fallen sporting star to use the Oprah Winfrey Show as the first act on the road to public redemption. The last one also happens to be a resident of Austin, Texas.

After conducting his two-part interview with Oprah at the Four Seasons Hotel in the Texan state capital, the fastest cheat on two wheels might have stopped off at the home of the one-time fastest woman in the world to ask how she fared when it came to hanging on to what she'd got in an athletics career boosted by steroid assistance. The answer would have been as brief as a Marion Jones race once was.

Four and a quarter years on from her tearful sit down with Oprah, the 37-year-old mother of three has become an asterisk in the record books. The five medals she won at the Sydney Olympic Games have been returned and all of her performances from September 2000 onwards have been deleted.

She has crashed and burned in her second sporting incarnation. After averaging less than a point a game with the Tulsa Shock, the worst record in the Women's NBA, in July last year she was cut from the roster and left on the basketball scrapheap.

Her attention now is focused on something called "Take a Break". According to her website, this is "a program that Marion Jones has created to enable her to give back and coach all people to live a better life and avoid mistakes that cause too big a price".

It was in October 2008 that the former American sprinter and long jumper sat down with Oprah to talk about the mistakes she had made and the price she had paid.

The interview was conducted when Jones was released on probation after serving a six month prison sentence for lying to US federal agents about taking performance-enhancing drugs in the investigation into the Balco drugs scandal. Much of it centred on the pain of being away from her children while in jail. Jones broke down in tears while reading out a letter that she had written to them. When it came to the mechanics of her "mistake," she maintained she had only lied about taking what she believed to be innocent tablets when confronted by federal agents with what was actually the designer steroid tetrahydrogestrinone, or THG.

Oprah Winfrey Now you say that you didn't know you were taking a performance enhancing drug. What did you think you were taking?

Marion Jones I thought I was taking supplements.

Winfrey What kind of supplements?

Jones I was told I was being given – what did he say that it was, it's been so long that I've had to discuss it, Oprah...um, I don't remember what he [coach Trevor Graham] told me at this moment that he was giving me. But he gave me a number of different supplements...

Winfrey Yeah, I'd read you were told it was flaxseed oil.

Jones Flaxseed oil...that's exactly what it was.

Winfrey But what did you think that flaxseed oil would do for you?

Jones Well, I knew that there were a number of supplements, vitamins that I needed to just balance my system out so I could be on an even playing field with everybody else and that was just one of the things that I needed to boost my energy or what not.

I was taking the typical stuff, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, creatine, things like that. I just thought that we had put the system together in preparation for the [Sydney] Games. And so the results were being shown on the track. Everything put together was working.

Winfrey So there never was even a question in your mind that what you were taking would be considered illegal or performance-enhancing?

Jones Never a question. Never a question. I never thought that I needed to use to make me better. I never knowingly took performance-enhancing drugs.

This little exchange, rather like a couple of friends bumping into one another outside Holland and Barrett, would have been all very well had it not long been in the public domain that Jones' former husband, the shot-putter CJ Hunter, had told federal investigators that he had injected her in the midriff with THG when they were in Sydney for the 2000 Olympics.

Hunter had also spoken of a conversation in which Victor Conte, owner of the Balco laboratory, had warned him that Jones could die of excessive insulin usage, saying: "Don't she know she can have a stroke if it's not taken the right way?"

None of this was put to Jones as she strove to reposition her image in the eyes of the great American public from that of villain to victim. As for her public standing? Four years on, that could be said to be taking something of an indefininte break.

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