Speculate about why she changed, but don’t question her successes at Carolina.
The name Marion Jones ’97 is engraved in glass in the windows of the Track and Field Hall of Honor. One of the “Tar Heel Track & Field Olympians.” 2000 Sydney. 2004 Athens. Her name is on a wooden plaque on the wall, black lettering against gold. Her face — victorious, arms outstretched — is on a Carolina blue banner that rings the Eddie Smith Field House indoor track, alongside a boldly lettered maxim: “Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.” She’s in a picture with her 2000 relay teammates. Her image is on a banner that hangs from the rafters of Carmichael Auditorium.
It’s staying up — at least, some of it is. Her former coaches are sticking by the fallen athlete, saying that her achievements made at Carolina will stand despite poor choices made in professional athletics. After Jones was disqualified by the IOC on Dec. 12 from her 2000 and 2004 Olympic events and stripped her of her five Olympic medals and 2004 fifth place in the long jump for using performance enhancing drugs, Carolina officials decided to take down pictures of Jones from the Olympics but will leave those that commemorate her successes at Carolina. They will consider how difficult it will be to take down her name etched on the windows of Olympic athletes, said Steve Kirschner, spokesman for the UNC athletics department.
“There is no reason that our banner should come down out of Carmichael,” said Carolina basketball Coach Sylvia Hatchell. “And she — Marion — was one of the most coachable athletes I have ever coached in 33 years. She led our team to a national championship in 1994. We would not have won a national championship without Marion Jones. But all this happened after she left Carolina. So there is no reason that anything having to do with Marion at North Carolina should be changed.”
Hatchell, track and field Coach Dennis Craddock and Athletics Director Dick Baddour ’66 agreed months ago to take down only the images if Jones returned the medals. “We’d decided some time ago to do whatever the IOC wanted to do,” Baddour said. “We wanted to respond in kind with what they did with her medals.”
Jones’ claim to fame came after college, and so did her problems, Craddock said, who coached Jones in track and field at Carolina.
“I bragged on Marion through all time. Because she said she was clean; she had gotten to where she was through hard work. Being her former coach, I never said, ‘I don’t agree with this.’ I believed her, and I think she was great role model at college here because she was a great student as well as a great athlete. We can always speculate on why she changed.”
During Jones’ professional career — becoming the first woman to win five medals in track and field at the 2000 Olympic after she was a poster girl for Kellogg’s, Gatorade, Nike, AT&T and others — she denied using performance enhancing drugs. But earlier this year, Jones pleaded guilty to falsely denying she had taken drugs and for other false statements she made to federal agencies during the investigation of BALCO Laboratories Inc.
She admitted she’d been taken the drug known as “the clear,” given to her by previous coach Trevor Graham prior to the 2000 Olympic Games, and had taken the drug for about a year. Jones also pleaded guilty to making false statements in an investigation of a check fraud and million-dollar money laundering scheme that resulted in the conviction of her former sports agent and her former boyfriend, Timothy Montgomery.
Her admission came after a 2002 federal criminal investigation uncovered information related to Graham. Evidence from the investigation uncovered Jones’ relationship with BALCO and Graham and her receipt and use of the drugs.
Jones is set to be sentenced Jan. 11. She faces a maximum of 10 years in prison for the false statements.
On Dec. 12, the executive board of the IOC disqualified Jones from the Olympic events in which she’d participated. She’d won the gold in the 100-meter, the 200-meter and the 400-meter relay, and she won the bronze in the 100-meter relay and the long jump at the Sydney Olympic Games. In 2004, she won fifth place in the long jump at Athens. Jones had to give all the medals back. According to an IOC news release, the board has stricken her from participation in the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games and possibly from all future Olympic Games, depending on the outcome of further investigations.
The board has not yet decided whether it will adjust the rankings of the athletes who finished behind Jones in the individual events.
Before her Olympic career, Jones was a starting point guard for Hatchell as a freshman, helping to carry the women’s basketball team to win the national championship in 1994. On her second day of basketball practice, Hatchell asked Jones to play point guard, although she had played under the net and on the wing in high school, according to her 2000 biography See How She Runs: Marion Jones & the Making of a Champion by Ron Rapoport.
“She was just off the charts as far as her leadership abilities, her work ethic, how coachable she was, how she got along with her teammates,” Hatchell said. “She was without a doubt the best.”
Jones came to Chapel Hill on a scholarship as a double-edged sword: playing basketball as well as competing in track and field. In track and field, she ranked fourth in the country in the long jump her sophomore year and broke the Atlantic Coastal Conference record in the event.
Jones received her first recruitment letter as a freshman in high school, and according to her biography, it took one visit for her to choose Carolina. In becoming a Tar Heel, she had left a trail of high school victories in basketball and track and field in her home state of California, qualifying for the U.S. Olympic team in 1992 but choosing not to go as a relay alternate.
Jones red-shirted for the 1995-96 basketball season to train for the 1996 Olympics, but she couldn’t go because of a broken foot.
She graduated in 1997 with a major in communications. She married former Carolina assistant track and field coach C.J. Hunter.
After college, she trained in Raleigh under Graham. In 1997, she won the U.S. championship in the 100-meter dash, and in 1998, she competed in 37 events and won 36 of them, according to Rapoport’s book. She started her Olympic career in 2000 in Sydney.
Hatchell said Jones’ downfall was a combination of poor choices and surrounding herself with the wrong people.
“I think that in my eyes that’s her only downfall,” Hatchell said. “And I think some of that was because Marion was such a good person. She trusted people. … I think that was the biggest mistake she made, was that she trusted people and some of the people that she trusted brought her down.”
Hatchell believes Jones will learn from her mistakes and move on.
“You could strip her of a lot of things, but you can’t take away her heart. But as far as her heart for sports and competing, you know, I’ve never had anybody better than Marion Jones as far as the heart. And the athlete she was — she was without a doubt the best.”
Craddock said he is hopeful she will be able to redeem her reputation.
“All we can do is say that Marion did a good job as a student athlete for us and we’re sorry this happened to her when she got in her professional ranks and she’s young and she’s got time to rehabilitate herself and do something positive for young athletes forever,” he said.
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