Fallen speedster Marion Jones hopes Roger Clemens finds peace
RICK TELANDER email@example.com July 14, 2011 11:18PM
Marion Jones won the 100 meters at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, one of her five medals there. | AP file
Updated: October 27, 2011 12:32AM
Marion Jones comes out of the locker room into the tunnel at Allstate Arena, still wearing her black and yellow Tulsa Shock uniform with the number 20 on it and her basketball shoes with the black ankle supports protruding upward, ready to meet the press.
That would be me.
Jones was a nonfactor in a 72-54 loss to the Sky, playing just 4:49, the least of any healthy payer on either team. The stat sheet shows her with an assist, though I missed that. The rest of her line for this reeling, last-place, 1-12 team is zeros.
What a difference from her line at the 2000 Sydney Olympics: three gold medals and two bronze medals — more track and field medals than any woman ever had won in one Olympics.
She was the anointed and glamorous ‘‘Fastest Woman on Earth,’’ and her 200-meter gold, for instance, came in a race in which she won by an astounding .43 seconds over the second-place finisher. The Australian TV announcer proclaimed as the race was unfurling, ‘‘She makes running fast look so easy — it’s just ridiculous.’’
Well, it was ridiculous, because Jones was doped up on BALCO’s illicit performance-enhancing drugs, and in time she would be sent off to prison for six months for lying to federal prosecutors about that.
Her fall from grace is now so obvious as to be difficult even to broach as a topic of questioning by a veteran scribe.
How are you doing? I say.
We look into each other’s eyes, and I wonder if she has the slightest recollection of me amid a herd of reporters at the Athens Games in 2004, jammed behind the metal barriers in the ‘‘neutral zone’’ under the Olympic Stadium, trying to ask her about her past, her future. In that Olympics, the U.S. women’s 400-meter relay team, of which she was a part, would botch a handoff and finish with nothing in the finals, and Jones would finish only fifth in her other event, the long jump.
She was fading then, but maybe — likely — all the cheating was catching up with her. Maybe she was clean by then. The heat had been on for a long time. Sports Illustrated ran a cover of her in her track stance for its Oct. 2, 2000, issue, as the Sydney Games were unfurling, beneath the headline, ‘‘Under The Gun: The Amazing Marion Jones Presses On In Sydney After Her Husband’s Drug Bombshell.’’
Oh, yes, the drug web went everywhere, including nandrolone-gobbling hubbie/shot putter C.J. Hunter.
Different sports, same story
But what I want to talk about is Roger Clemens and what Jones thinks might happen to the former star pitcher now that he is being tried for allegedly lying to Congress about steroid-taking. This was Wednesday afternoon, and nobody anywhere could have guessed the Clemens trial in Washington would be declared a mistrial shortly after it started.
But the similarities between the two athletes are clear Each was once the best on the planet at what he or she did, each was tainted by drug accusations, each already has paid a tremendous price in reputation erosion. For Jones, the wreckage is complete. For Clemens, there is much still in the balance.
And whether a new perjury trial continues the pursuit of Clemens or not, what does Jones think life might be like for a man who has protested his innocence loud and long?
‘‘If I were really aware of what is going on with that, maybe I would have something to say,’’ Jones says. ‘‘But, more importantly, I haven’t followed it, and I don’t know what is going on. I’m a basketball player, and I am busy with that.’’
Jones was the point guard on the North Carolina women’s NCAA championship team in 1994, and after she got out of prison, then-Shock coach and general manager Nolan Richardson gave her a tryout and signed her to the team in March 2010.
Her salary is said to be that of the average payer — $35,000 — a long way from the millions she could earn as a world phenom and leading lady of track.
But so it goes. Richardson recently left the team, and Jones, with her limited playing time, is clearly a hangover P.R. move that maybe has run its course.
She has three children, including one by the former ‘‘World’s Fastest Man,’’ sprinter Tim Montgomery, and you’d think at some point playing pro basketball as a benchwarmer would become tiresome and difficult.
But, then, what other profession beckons for her?
Such is the ruination of the Steroid Era. Think of the athletes brought down or darkened by shadow: Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Ben Johnson, Michelle Smith, Rafael Palmeiro, Kelli White, Jason Giambi, on and on, and, yes, Marion Jones.
Physically not the same, either
Her shoulders are smaller than I remember. In fact, she looks slender to the point of being skinny. Her deltoids are normal, not the bulges we saw on the track.
She is also strikingly attractive, though that is something that will not be much of a factor now that she has been painted with the brush of shame.
‘‘I’m competitive,’’ Jones says after a time. ‘‘I’m a competitor, and I want to win. And I want to help this team win — that’s my goal. I think I can bring energy, lots of energy. I was in a personal sport for over a decade, and now I’m in a team sport. And when I’m done with this, I don’t know what I’ll do, but no one will put me in a box. I’m not going to limit myself by that.
‘‘It’s been an incredible journey, and now I’m at peace. When did it happen? I can’t think of a moment when I saw a big flash of light, nothing like that. It was just over time. I’ll let you guys do all the psychoanalyzing, the whys and whats and all that.’’
The Shock P.R. man, Pardeep Toor, is standing next to her. It’s about time to quit the grilling, no matter how gentle.
But Clemens, what of him?
‘‘I hope he finds peace,’’ she says. ‘‘I’m at peace with everything in this world. That’s about all I can say.’’
We shake hands, and she departs back into the locker room.
It’s hard to explain how empty everything feels for a while.