American sprinter Marion Jones was once considered the golden girl in track and field, dominating the sprints and later becoming the first woman in athletics to achieve five medals at a single Olympics in 2000.
Though seven years later, Jones was stripped of her medals, ordered to pay back prize money and jailed for the one thing she denied throughout her career. Doping.
Jones’s career is one that remains unforgettable in American sports history for both her rise to fame and ultimately, her catastrophic downfall.
The rise: ‘High School Athlete of the Year’
Jones was recognised as a bright prospect in both athletics and basketball from early on. Her talent was evident in high school, winning multiple titles and accolades. As a high-schooler, Jones was named ‘Gatorade Player of the Year’ and ‘High School Athlete of the Year’ for her accomplishments in track and field.
However, Jones’s high-school success was marred with doping allegations after failing to show for a random drug test. Despite this, the rising star was able to maintain her innocence with tests showing no traces of banned substances.
The rise: Success at the World Junior Championships
At 17-years-old, Jones represented U.S.A at the 1992 World Junior Championships in Seoul, South Korea achieving a silver medal in the 4×100-metre relay – a glimpse of what was to come.
The rise: World Championship and Olympic success
Jones asserted herself on the senior world stage in 1997, winning gold in the 100-metre and 10th in the long jump at the World Championships in Athens. For the following three years, Jones proved to be a prolific sprinter, winning major titles in both the 100-metre and 200-metre, running a personal best of 10.65 and 21.62 respectively.
At the height of her career, Jones earned five medals at the Sydney Olympic Games in 2000. This incredible performance saw her become the first female athlete in history to achieve this feat. Though as the people around were exposed for failing drug tests, inevitably, her downfall was looming.
The fall: Cheating scandal
In 2004, investigations into the Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative (BALCO) led people to believe that the organisation was supplying performance-enhancing drugs to its professional athletes – including Jones.
Fingers started to point towards the Olympic champion as those associated with her, including her ex-husband C. J. Hunter and ex-boyfriend Tim Montgomery, both failing drug tests. Though despite this, Jones continued to deny using illegal substances.
The fall: From podium to prison
In October 2007, Jones pleaded guilty to lying under oath about her use of banned substance ‘The Clear’. She was sentenced to six months in prison and ordered to return $700,000 in prize money. Not only that, her results dating back to September 2000 were annulled, and she was later stripped of her Olympic and World Championship medals.
The fall: Bankruptcy
At the pinnacle of her career, Jones was one of track’s first female sports millionaires but that quickly changed after her cheating confession. Jones had a hefty amount to repay from prize money and endorsements to legal expenses. She was eventually forced to sell her mansion and two other properties to settle her growing debt.
Jones retired from athletics in 2007 though, her fall from grace is remembered as one of the most shocking doping scandals in the history of track and field.
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