COMMENTS: Track Triumphs Tarnished

Word of Marion Jones' disgrace broke yesterday. Today saw her formal--and tearful--apology for lying about doping herself in order to achieve Olympic glory. The track-&-field sprinter appeared on the steps of a suburban New York courthouse to admit her "great amount of shame." Jones' guilt was the lead story on all three network newscasts, the unanimous Story of the Day.

In her apology Jones admitted making false statements…and being dishonest…and letting her country down…but, NBC's Mike Taibbi noted referring to the steroids, she "still insists she never took them knowingly…only that she lied years later, once she learned it was steroids she had been taking, not flax seed oil." ABC's Kate Snow went to her network's archives to contradict Jones. She found the 2004 interview by her colleague Martin Bashir with Victor Conte, the owner of BALCO, the San Francisco area laboratory that supplied performance-enhancing drugs: "She did the injection right there with me sitting there next to her," Conte claimed. CBS' substitute anchor Harry Smith asked CNN's medical correspondent Sanjay Gupta what the testosterone from Jones' THG steroid does for an athlete. Gupta ticked off more muscle mass, faster reflexes, greater speed, "increase your male traits"…plus liver damage, cholesterol build-up and hormonal failure.

The doping not only helped Jones win five medals at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, CBS' Byron Pitts (no link) pointed out: "She turned those medals into millions," with lucrative sponsorship deals from Madison Avenue--"advertisers adored her"--and $50,000-per-race appearance fees from meets. Pitts quoted Jones as declaring that track-&-field is "a sport which I deeply love." Yet her disgrace may mean that her own relay teammates may lose their medals, too, when she is stripped of hers. Next summer when the Olympic Games are being held in Beijing, Jones may be serving six months in federal prison.

NBC was the network that broadcast those Sydney Games. Anne Thompson recalled covering it: "Marion Jones looked me in the eye" to deny doping, "a lie she disguised with a smile that lit stadiums and determination that mowed down competitors." Thompson's memory told her that "everybody wanted her to win those five gold medals in 2000. She was the golden girl of those Games." In fact, it was NBC Sports' publicity and promotion machine--not quite "everybody"--that was instrumental in the creation of her golden girl image and Drive-for-Five hype. In the end, despite her enhanced performance, only three of Jones' medals were golden; the other two were bronze--and all five are now trash.


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