Shadows hang over Jones' appearance

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The Independent Online

By the time the competitor wearing number 3293 stepped on to the runway for her first attempt in the women's long jump qualifying competition last night, the sun had long since disappeared over the roof of the Olympic Stadium. But for Marion Jones, there was always going to be a shadow cast over her appearance in Athens.

By the time the competitor wearing number 3293 stepped on to the runway for her first attempt in the women's long jump qualifying competition last night, the sun had long since disappeared over the roof of the Olympic Stadium. But for Marion Jones, there was always going to be a shadow cast over her appearance in Athens.

Thus far, the former superwoman of track and field has escaped any charges from the officers of the US Anti-Doping Agency in their investigations into the activities of the Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative. It was only last month, however, that Jones' former husband claimed to have injected her with a cocktail of chemicals at the Sydney Olympics that would have made Frankenstein jolt.

According to memos leaked to the San Francisco Chronicle, CJ Hunter told investigators from the Internal Revenue Service that he had stuck needles containing the designer steroid tetrahydrogestrinone (THG) into Jones' midriff when she was in Australia for the 2000 Games. He allegedly said he had also given her human grown hormone and erythropoeitin (EPO).

The memo also noted Hunter saying that Victor Conte, the owner of Balco, had called him to express his concern that Jones could die of excessive insulin use, saying: "Don't she know she could have a stroke if not taken the right way?" Jones and her lawyer, Joseph Burton, strenuously deny the allegations.

Whatever the truth of the matter, Jones carried the baggage of the fight to clear her name into her second Olympic Games. It did not appear to weigh heavily on her shoulders.

Although she stepped over the take-off board with her first jump, the 28-year-old Californian comfortably exceeded the qualifying distance for tomorrow night's final with her second effort, breaking the sand at 6.70m (1cm short of the third-round attempt that took Britain's Jade Johnson through). For Jones, though, there was no great cheer from the crowd, just a muted ripple of applause.

It was all different in Sydney, when Jones arrived as the golden girl of world athletics, on her celebrated "drive for five" Olympic golds. It was a quest she was obliged to interrupt when it was revealed that Hunter, a 23-stone shot-putter, had failed four tests for the anabolic steroid nandrolone, registering 1,000 times above the allowable limit.

Jones stood by her man at a press conference, supported by Conte, who claimed Hunter had been the innocent victim of contaminated supplements, and by Johnnie Cochrane, the lawyer who was OJ 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 already had one other unfortunate association. She was coached by Trevor Graham, a sprint guru with six positive drug tests among his group. To have subsequently linked up with Charlie Francis, the coach who masterminded Ben Johnson's steroid-fuelled rise and fall, was also unfortunate. Then there is Jones' partner, 100m world record holder Tim Montgomery. He has been accused of doping offences by the USA DA and is awaiting a hearing with the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Like Montgomery, Jones failed to qualify for the US team in the 100m or 200m. Her hopes of adding to the three golds she collected in Sydney are pinned on the long jump and the 4 x 100m relay. "I'm just happy to be here," Jones said, as she left the arena last night. "It's pretty much anybody's game in the final."

With that, the tarnished golden girl was off - into the shadows of the main stand corridor.

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