The Rise and Fall of Marion Jones

January 13, 2024
2 mins read

How are the Mighty Fallen!

Saturday/Sunday, October 14, 2007.

By Keith Boykin

There’s something about Marion Jones that I’ve always liked. For all her success on the running track, she still came across as humble and normal.

Maybe I was wrong all along, but I always got the impression that she was a nice person. Maybe she was and still is, but Jones’s announcement recently that she used illegal steroids before winning 5 medals in the 2000 Olympics stunned many observers in the sports world.

In just over a week, Jones dropped from legend to fallen hero as she pleaded guilty to federal charges and agreed to forfeit all results and prizes dating back to Sept. 1, 2000. The final blow came yesterday when the U.S. Olympic Committee announced that Jones had returned her medals, which will now will returned to the International Olympic Committee. That had to hurt.

At the Sydney Olympics in 2000, Marion Jones won gold medals in the 100 meters, 200 meters and the 1,600 relay and took home bronzes in the 400 relay and long jump. For years, Jones denied that she ever had used performance-enhancing drugs to win at the Olympics.

But then last Friday she came clean. Jones admitted that she’d taken the designer steroid “the clear” from September 2000 to July 2001. “It’s with a great amount of shame that I stand before you and tell you that I have betrayed your trust,” she said.

Jones’ admission came as she pleaded guilty to lying to federal investigators about using steroids. She accepted a two-year ban from competition and agreed to forfeit any results dating back to September 2000. She will be sentenced on January 11, and faces a likely prison term of six months.

As a former 400 meter runner in high school and college, I can’t begin to tell you how disappointed I am in Jones. I thought she was one of the “good guys.” Long after I had left the sport, she inspired me with her speed on the track and her grace and agility soaring into the sand pit of the long jump.

Just last week I watched Olympic gold medalist Carl Lewis on CNN as he called for Jones to return her medals. I wasn’t sure she would do so, but I’m glad that she agreed to do so, although I’m not sure she had much choice in the matter in return for her plea agreement.

Jones’s fall from grace should serve as a cautionary tale to all who seek to rise to fame and fortune by cutting corners. There is no substitute for hard work, and although cheaters sometimes win, they must live with the knowledge that their victory is tainted.

We live in a very blame-centered culture, and I myself have participated in that from time to time. But I also believe very strongly in forgiveness. Not that it matters, but I forgive Marion Jones. I do so because she confessed to her sins and expressed what appears to be genuine remorse.

Of course one could argue that Jones only fessed up when she was caught, and that may be true. But confession and contrition are still important. It is not as easy to offer forgiveness to those who continue to lie even when they’re caught and never apologize for their behavior. We’re all human and we all make mistakes. Sometimes we follow the wrong path. But eventually we have to come clean with ourselves and those around us.

Finally, it seems increasingly clear that one of the long-term targets of the steroids investigation is still San Francisco Giants player Barry Bonds. Only Bonds himself may know if he really used steroids, but if he did, he may want to think about preparing a confession now before he has no choice later.

If Marion Jones has anything to teach Bonds and the rest of us, it is this: you can’t cheat forever and get away with it.

Keith Boykin is a writer, broadcaster, journalist and political commentator. He blogs at

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