Drugs in sport: Jones denies fresh Conte claims over injecting drugs

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The Independent Online

Marion Jones denied the allegations that emerged yesterday from Victor Conte, the man at the centre of the Balco doping scandal, who claimed that he had witnessed her injecting performance-enhancing drugs he supplied.

Conte, who faces federal charges for steroid distribution, said he assisted the former Olympic and world champion to administer herself with human growth hormone via a syringe in a California hotel room on the eve of her first competition in 2001.

"After I instructed her how to do it... she did the injection with me sitting right there next to her - right in front of me," Conte said in an excerpt from the ABC News programme 20/20 that was televised last night. Asked whether Jones was a drugs cheat, he replied: "Without a doubt.''

The former jazz musician, who has been indicted following the federal investigation into his San Francisco-based laboratory, claimed he had started a drugs programme - which included the designer steroid tetrahydrogestrinone, otherwise known as THG or "the Clear'' - for Jones six weeks before she won five medals at the 2000 Olympics.

Conte has also spoken to ESPN the Magazine, claiming that he had been asked to help the sprinter and long-jumper before the Sydney Games began by her then husband, C J Hunter, who has subsequently made his own claims to have seen Jones injecting steroids.

Jones has consistently denied any wrongdoing - "I have never accepted, nor taken, nor have been offered any performance-enhancing drug by anyone," she said in May.

Her lawyer, Richard Nichols, has dismissed the latest allegations. "We invite the public to decide," he said. "Victor Conte is a man facing a 42-count federal indictment, while Marion Jones is one of America's most decorated female athletes.''

Jones, who failed to win a medal at this year's Olympics, has never failed a drug test. Conte said no accurate tests existed for the substances he gave her. "I know that she was tested many, many times from the time-frame that I worked with her... and she obviously passed all those drug tests, including the ones at the Olympic Games," he said. "So it's like taking candy from a baby.''

Jacques Rogge, of the International Olympic Committee, said yesterday he was aware of Conte's latest claims. "I hope the truth will emerge," he said. "We want to know what happened and the more we know the better.''

Conte was arrested along with his colleague Jim Valente, the baseball coach Greg Anderson and athletics coach Remi Korchemny on charges of illegal steroid trafficking and money laundering. The case returned to the news this week as the quartet attended a pre-trial hearing ahead of a possible trial next March.

The proceedings will feature testimony by leading athletes including Jones, her husband Tim Montgomery and baseball player Barry Bonds to a Grand Jury late last year.

Why Conte is speaking now, rather than at his trial, is unclear, although he told ESPN that he believed the world "deserves to know the truth''.

Whether the truth has been told by the Balco Lab owner remains open to question, but he has certainly vouchsafed a mass of fine detail concerning what he maintains was a supportive role for athletes including Jones, the world 100-metre record-holder Montgomery, who faces doping charges arising from the federal inquiry, the former world 100m and 200m champion Kelli White and the British sprinter Dwain Chambers, who is now serving a two-year ban.

Conte said he had split with Jones in the summer of 2001 after she had become careless about leaving incriminatory substances in hotel rooms.

"I couldn't afford to have Marion leave... an injector in a room registered in her name," he said. "I was also having financial problems with Tim over a US$25,000 [£13,000] personal loan. So that August I ended my relationship with both of them and began working with their rivals.

"One was British sprinter Dwain Chambers. I met Dwain at a track at the University of Miami in January and eventually gave him the full enchilada: "The Clear", insulin, EPO, growth hormone, modafinil and a testosterone cream I'd started using that didn't show up on standard drug screens. By August he was European 100m champion.''

White, who was banned for two years in May and stripped of her world titles, recalled tearfully this week how she could not watch her own races on TV because her muscular frame reminded her of the choice that she had made.

"I had to compromise my integrity, my value system," she said. "I knew it was so wrong."

Conte is not troubled by such moral scruples, as he made clear in his magazine interview. "People have asked me, 'Do you feel guilty about what you did? Are you ashamed?' The answer is no, because I got to the point where I realised that elite sport is about doing what you have to do to win.

"I've seen athletes being forced to decide whether to use or not use, and it's more painful for them to entertain the idea of giving up their dream than using anabolic steroids. So those are the real rules. That is what's going on. Those are real choices an athlete faces when they get to the very top of their sport."

The World Anti-Doping Agency chief Dick Pound called for Jones to be the subject of a hearing, saying Conte's comments were "evidence".

"I would say it is now time when we can test her credibility and decide whether you believe him [Conte] or her," he said. "We would look to USADA [United States Anti-Doping Agency] to do whatever they feel necessary now."

Pound said the case was crucial in Wada's fight against doping, stating that it was potentially the biggest since Canada's Ben Johnson was stripped of his 100m gold at the 1988 Seoul Games after a positive test for steroids.

"She's been so adamant in her denials, her reputation will be gone forever if it is found that she took drugs," Pound said.