“Marion wasn’t doing anything the others weren’t doing,” Conte said. “Was she on performance enhancers? Yes, but she was the superior athlete. You don’t just take performance enhancers and win gold medals.”
The problem with this rationale is that not everyone she ran against has been caught or even implicated. In a sport that bestows glory and wealth by virtue of eye blinks, would Jones have been America’s golden girl on the strength of her own natural gifts? Ben Johnson couldn’t prove he was the real deal after Seoul, South Korea. Neither can Jones — too late and too bad.
The chance for Olympic greatness may come once in a lifetime. Jones was 24 in Sydney, in the prime of her sprinting life. More than anything, she cheated her own potential. She is reported to have said in her letter that she lied to the agents because she panicked, but it sounds like that was also the case when she started using the clear in 1999.
In Sydney, she became the subject of suspicion when Hunter, her husband at the time and a former world champion shot putter, was revealed to have failed a drug test. At a news conference now immortalized by time and place and those in attendance (Conte and the renowned lawyer, Johnnie Cochran, among them), Jones stood by Hunter, the way she would later stand by a boyfriend, Tim Montgomery, another of the track tainted who bore witness to Jones’s inability to choose well.
For all of his expressed sympathy, Conte dogged her by volunteering revelatory information whenever he could. That he was right makes him no more a hero in any of this than the baseball steroids snitch José Canseco. It is just more evidence of what happens when an infestation comes under attack.
Conte is a weasel, not for creating the drugs (I'm not opposed to drugs, only to using them without medical supervision), but because he took every opportunity over the past few years to cast doubt on Jones' claims of innocence - and he knew better than anyone else that she was using drugs.
He took advantage of the situation to keep his name in the news, to make money from the tabloids (this is speculation, on my part). If he had any integrity, he would have kept his mouth shut and let things play out on their own.
I'm not opposed to drug use by athletes. One thing Conte is right about is that all the top athletes are using. Jones made the mistake of associating with men who were obviously using -- her first husband, C. J. Hunter, and former boyfriend Tim Montgomery. Guilt by association had already been dogging her, and that may be how she got tripped up in her lies. If drugs were legal, just like any other performance enhancement tool, this wouldn't even be an issue.
I feel bad for Jones, not that she got caught but that she used drugs in the first place. When she won in Sydney, she was so far superior to the other women that it's clear (to those who know that the drugs could provide only a few hundredths improvement at best) that she didn't need the drugs. The author is right -- she panicked.