Former U.S. sprint star Marion Jones has admitted taking performance-enhancing drugs during her storied sprint career. As VOA's David Byrd reports, Jones pleaded guilty in a New York Court to lying to U.S. government agents in connection with using a steroid that has tainted the careers of several top sports stars.
Jones entered the plea Friday afternoon in U.S. District Court in White Plains, New York. The former sprint queen, dressed in a dark pinstriped suit and peach colored shirt, fought back tears as she addressed reporters, her family and friends outside a White Plains, New York court house.
"And so it is with a great amount of shame that I stand before you and tell you that I have betrayed your trust. I want all of you to know that today I plead guilty to two counts of making false statements to federal agents. Making these false statements was an incredibly stupid thing for me to do. And I am responsible for my actions. I have no one to blame but myself for what I have done," she said.
Jones was released on her own recognizance and was ordered to return to court January 11 for sentencing. The former sprinter said that she had let down her fans and family and that they had the right to be angry. She said she hoped people forgive her and announced that she was retiring from track and field, which she called a sport she deeply loved.
"I have let my country down and I have let myself down. I recognize that by saying that I am deeply sorry it might not be enough and sufficient to address the pain that I have caused you. Therefore, I want to ask for your forgiveness for my actions and I hope that you can find it in your heart to forgive me," she said.
The plea was in sharp contrast to Jones' former statements, including before the 2004 Olympics in Athens, where she vehemently denied every using performance-enhancing drugs. "I have never, ever used performance-enhancing drugs. And I have accomplished what I have accomplished because of my God-given abilities and hard work," she said.
The admission reverberated throughout the sports world and even reached the White House, where spokeswoman Dana Perino said President Bush, who had called for a Federal crackdown on steroid use in a State of the Union speech, was saddened by the news.
"What the President is really concerned about is that any professional athlete, or anyone who aspires to be a professional athlete thinks that they have to use performance enhancing drugs in order to achieve their goals. He was sad about the news and hopes that parents can talk to their children about making sure that as they grow up that they can avoid any type of steroid use because they can really get by on their own skill and talent," she said.
Jones could be stripped of three Olympic gold medals and two bronzes from the 2000 Sydney Olympics. Under the statute of limitations rules, the International Olympic Committee can go back eight years to strip athletes of medals and nullify results.
Jones' admission came to light in a letter to her family and friends published by the Washington Post newspaper. In the letter, Jones admitted taking the banned-steroid THG, known by its street name "the clear," because it could not be detected by dope tests.
The three-time Olympic gold medalist said her former coach Trevor Graham gave her the drug beginning in 1999. Jones said that Graham told her it was flaxseed oil. Jones left Graham's training camp in 2002 and said she noticed a marked decrease in her performance when she stopped taking the drug.
The previously-undetectable drug was manufactured by the Bay Area Laboratory Cooperative or BALCO. Several top Major League Baseball players, including Jason Giambi and Gary Sheffield later admitted taking the substance, according to the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper. Baseball's home run king Barry Bonds has admitted using a substance his trainer Greg Anderson told him was flaxseed oil.
Anderson and four others were convicted of drug charges in the case. Graham has been indicted on three counts of lying to federal agents about the drug and has pleaded not guilty. He faces trial next month.
In addition to the doping scandal, Jones pleaded guilty to lying to federal agents about her role in a bank fraud and money laundering scheme. Tim Montgomery, former 100-meters world record holder, gave Jones a $25,000 check as part of the conspiracy, but Jones told investigators she knew nothing about the scheme.
Jones said again she had panicked, because she did not want her name associated with the fraud. Now, her name will be one of the many associated with doping in high-level athletic competition.