Sport on TV: You can't keep up with Jones and it's probably just as well

Andrew Tong
Sunday 12 December 2010 01:00 GMT

Is there anything else in life that can proscribe the same arc as the world's best sportsmen seeing their hard-built reputations reduced to rubble?

Once you were unbeatable and everybody loved you or admired you or at least grudgingly admitted your superiority. And now you are hapless and even the fans turn on you while the rest of the world thoroughly enjoys your downfall. But enough about Marion Jones. What about the Aussies, eh? Still got that stupid grin on your face? Christmas certainly came early this year. In fact they could cancel the festive season and we might not even notice.

One of the great things about Australia's unravelling is that you don't have to feel any pity for them. Surprisingly, perhaps, the same applies to Jones. She was the golden girl from a broken home in LA who once said innocently: "All I can do is run fast and jump far." She sprinted like a runaway train, but alas it was like the one on Coronation Street rather than a Southeastern special. She crashed spectacularly rather than simply grinding to a halt; she flew off the track and into the field.

Inside Sport – The Marion Jones Story (BBC1, Monday) told how she lied to a federal commission for the Balco doping inquiry and, after shacking up with sprinter Tim Montgomery, perjured herself in court again when he was charged with cheque fraud. She got six months in one of America's hardest prisons. Montgomery was banned for steroid abuse and was later convicted of dealing heroin.

Marion didn't chase the dragon, through she would certainly have caught up with it, but her charge sheet doesn't even include the small matter of performance-enhancing drugs helping her to win three gold medals at the Sydney Olympics. She barely seems to remember that. Perhaps it was the drugs. They say if you remember the Sixties, then you weren't there. And she began the programme by saying: "Who was that person from 1997 to 2007?" That's a bad case of "the Jones".

This refusal to see doping as a crime against sport infuriates other athletes. "You're not that stupid, you're not naïve," said Denise Lewis. "What the hell are you doing?" Michael Johnson, who came from a similar background and achieved the same extraordinary heights in the sport before his own fall – he became trapped in a BBC studio forever with Sue Barker – might perhaps offer some mitigation, but no. "She made mistake after mistake after mistake."

Jones addresses women's groups and tells them about her criminal experiences and their aftermath, but she doesn't tell them about being a cheat. "People make mistakes," she told Gabby Logan. "It's what you do afterwards that you should really be judged by." The problem is, you can judge her equally harshly for what she failed to do after each setback: change her ways, and her friends.

Logan seemed to pass judgement as freely as Jones used to pass water during her 160-odd drugs tests. She kept interrupting her subject as if she wasn't really listening, in fact didn't want to hear it. But Jones kept saying the same things anyway: "You overlook certain stuff... you look the other way... you look past the little things." Ultimately it sounds as if one of the world's greatest sprinters was simply moving too fast to notice what was going on around her.

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