Marion Jones Returns to Top Form

By Steve McGill
Updated: June 6, 2006

Jones crosses the finish line at the Reebox Grand Prix

Jones crosses the finish line at the Reebox Grand Prix

NORTH CAROLINA—Don’t look now, y’all, but Marion Jones is back. After falling off the map for two whole years, Jones, the best female American sprinter throughout the late ‘90s and early part of this century, is running fast races again, and seems poised for a run at the 2007 World Championships in Osaka, Japan.

At the Reebok Grand Prix track meet in New York on June 3rd, Jones finished first in the women’s 100 meter dash, beating some of the top female sprinters in the world in the process. It was her third victory of the season. Jones ran 11.06 into a .5 headwind.

Jones’ time is very fast for so early in the season. That she did it into a headwind makes it more impressive. Most significant, though, is the level of competition she overcame. In second place was 2004 Olympic 200-meter champion Veronica Campbell of Jamaica. In third was 2003 100-meter world champion Torri Edwards. In fourth was last year’s 100-meter world champion Lauryn Williams.

“This is just the beginning,” Jones said after the race. “I want to compete against the best. This is what I love. I have a passion for it.”

To say that the 30-year-old Jones has struggled in the past two years would be an understatement. She missed all of 2004 after having a baby with fellow sprinter Tim Montgomery. In 2005, she made a comeback under the guidance of coach Steve Riddick, former Olympic gold medalist n the 4×100-meter relay. Battling a hip injury, the best Jones could manage was an 11.28, far off her personal best of 10.65. This year, she seems on pace to run well under 11.00 again.

Besides the pregnancy and the injury, Jones has also been waging war with the media and the drug federations that rule amateur sports in America and world-wide. The Balco scandal that effectively ended the careers of Montgomery and 2003 200-meter world champion Kelly White also threatened to put an end to Jones’ fantastic career, and to tarnish her legacy as one of the greatest female sprinters in history.

Victor Conte, the Bay-area scientist and grand master of Balco’s evil machinations, has claimed publicly on more than one occasion that Jones has used illegal performance-enhancing drugs. White admitted to using performance-enhancers and accepted a ban against competing. Montgomery, while he has never failed a drug test and claims to have never taken anything illegal, has also received a ban based on the evidence gathered in the Balco case. Jones, meanwhile, has lived under the black cloud of suspicion, but has not been formally charged with any wrongdoing. She too maintains her innocence.

In the case of Jones, her credibility is undeniable. She does not show any of the tell-tale signs that suggest the use of steroids or growth hormones. Her body is still thin and sleek, with well-toned muscles. She hasn’t amassed a great amount of bulk. Her voice hasn’t grown deeper, and her facial features haven’t changed.

Except for the claims of Conte, and the usual “you know she did it” attitude we adopt when hearing of athletes gaining an unfair competitive edge, there are no reasons to believe Jones ever cheated. Conte is as sleazy as they come, so nothing he says can be taken at face value. Jones never had the sudden improvement in her performance level that would trigger serious suspicion. It is quite believable that pregnancy, injury, and a lack of confidence have hampered her performance in the past two years.

Not to mention it’s been kind of hard to focus on training when dogged by steroid questions all day long.

In the sprint events, you don’t have to fall off far to fall off the map. If you’re a couple of tenths slower than you were in your glory days, you’re a scrub. I for one am glad to see that Jones is back at the top of her game, and I hope she stays there another few years.

“Nobody is chasing me away,” Jones said after the Reebok meet. Well good for you, Marion.