From The Los Angeles Times:
With the image last week of Jones standing weeping on the courthouse steps still fresh, it might be difficult to recall a time when she was all but inescapable as the symbol of the possibilities, and the joy, that could flow from a life devoted to sport.
How she got to that point might also seem a little hazy now. Jones, whose nine state sprint and long jump championships and basketball prowess make her arguably the finest high school athlete, male or female, California has ever produced. Jones, who as a freshman was the starting point guard on North Carolina’s NCAA championship basketball team. Jones, who in 1998 compiled the most astonishing season in the history of track and field, competing in 38 events on five continents and winning 37 of them.
She emerged from that odyssey ranked No. 1 in the world at 100 and 200 meters and in the long jump and I had seen enough.
We talked about drugs at length and about the perception that her sport is full of cheats, many with Olympic medals in their drawers. She took it very personally, she said. It made every top track and field athlete a suspect, which wasn’t fair.
“All I can do is continue to be clean and to be around people who are clean,” she said.
Jones says her coach, Trevor Graham, first gave her steroids in 1999. But BALCO chief Victor Conte, whose interview in 2004 with ESPN the Magazine offered the first credible charges against her, says he didn’t begin providing them until a year later, six weeks before the Olympics. He didn’t even meet Jones, Conte says, until after the Games had begun. Whatever the case, there is no evidence that Jones took drugs until long after she had established herself as by far the finest female track athlete in the world.
Why did she do it? One hypothesis, a favorite of amateur psychologists everywhere, is the bad-man theory. She put her faith in a manipulative husband/boyfriend/coach/trainer/lawyer/advisor, take your pick. It all goes back to her father deserting the family when she was very young and her search for a surrogate.
I don’t buy it for a minute. Jones is a strong, determined, intelligent woman who took charge of every aspect of her career. Did she listen to bad advice? Certainly. Was she Trilby to some evil Svengali? Certainly not.
But all right then, why? I think it was her determination to do something nobody else had done. I think it was those five gold medals she wanted to win.
I think she and Graham looked at the Olympic schedule and saw that in a period of 10 days she would have to run three races at 100 meters, three at 200 meters, compete twice in the long jump, run heats in the 400- and 1,600-meter relays and then run the relay finals less than two hours apart. I think they decided she would need help. I think they bought into the widespread notion among athletes that steroids would help her recovery time.
And that is the real tragedy. If Jones had settled for less — the sprints, say, and the shorter relay — she would have ended up with so much more.
…she could have made a life out of it — traveling the world as a goodwill ambassador for track and field, returning to the Olympics as a television commentator and honored guest, speaking as a powerful advocate for women’s sports, inspiring youngsters wherever she went.
Instead, she is going to jail.
Jones says those of us who admired and believed in her have a right to feel angry and betrayed, and I suppose I do, a little. Mostly, though, I just feel sad. Sad that smiling golden girl who was cheered on tracks all over the world has made such a mess of things. Sad she traded her future for two bronze medals.