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Steroid stain wedded to Jones, clean or no


SYDNEY, Australia- If it is true that Marion Jones' husband tested positive for steroids, as a Sydney tabloid newspaper has reported, it doesn't look good for Jones, the American track star who wants to win five gold medals at the 2000 Summer Olympics.

No, it doesn't mean Jones also has used performance-enhancing drugs. That's not a fair leap to make, even if many are hound to make it in the wake of a report in todays Sydney Daily Telegraph that her husband, world champion shot-putter C. J. Hunter, had tested positive at a meet in Europe last summer.

"If she doesn't test positive, we shouldn't confer [blame] from one individual to another," International Olympic Committee general director Francois Carrard said today.

Jones has never flunked a test, and she underwent one after winning the gold medal in the women's 100 meters Saturday night.

"I heard nothing to suggest that Marion Jones is in any way involved," IOC vice president Richard Pound told The Sun's Bill Glauber, reacting to the Daily Teleqraph story.

There is also the possibility that Hunter didn't test positive. The story was on Page 3 of the Daily Telegraph and was attributed only to "sources," leading to some doubts about its veracity. Pound, who has headed the organization's drug-testing efforts coming into Sydney, said "it is hearsay from someone who is reliable, but it is hearsay."

Remember Richard Jewell, the security guard who was falsely implicated in the Atlanta Olympic bombing?

The Telegraph story did include specifics, citing the dates and locations of Hunter's supposedly positive tests, as well as the steroids involved.

We will just have to see what happens, where the story goes in the coming days.

But since this is track, a sport already operating under a dark cloud of drug-related suspicions, there's no way for Jones to avoid the taint even if these are only rumors that her husband is on the long list of cheaters.

She had steered clear of that cloud until now, maintaining a positive image as America's Olympic cover girl.

But now, fairly or not, there are going to be questions and doubts.

Did she know what her husband was doing if he is guilty, or did he shield his use from her? If Hunter is operating in the sports netherworld of performance-enhancing drugs, what does she know?

And of course, the big question no one wants to ask out loud is this: With masking agents so sophisticated now and some athletes "beating" tests, is there any way that Jones also is guilty even though she has never tested positive?

That's a devastating question for track, the Olympic movement, NBC and anyone invested in seeing the Games come off as cleanly and positively as possible, and just the fact that people might ask it now, even if Jones is innocent, damages the credibility of Jones, the Games and all involved.

Fair? Maybe, maybe not. A shame? No question. It's a terrible shame.

But sadly, it's just another day in track, a sport that has all but disappeared from the sporting radar in America largely because of fans' suspicions that they couldn't trust what they were seeing.

The suggestion that a shot-putter has tested positive for steroids is about as surprising as the news that the sun came up again today in Australia. The event has been dogged for years by high-profile bans and suspensions, results overturned, medals given back -- the whole, sad litany of cheating.

And the reality is that, amid rumors that the drug testing in Sydney would be far more stringent than at any prior Olympics, the track world was suspicious of any athlete who pulled out shortly before the Games began, as Hunter did after finishing first at the U.S Olympic trials in July.

Everyone's eyebrows went up when China pulled 27 athletes out of the Games just before they began, and although the U.S. "pullouts" had excuses, their timing, in the end, was just as suspicious.

Hunter had a seemingly valid excuse - his injured knee was in such bad shape that he underwent surgery earlier this month.

That's really going to an extreme to avoid having to take a drug test, but now, fairly or not, everyone will wonder just what Hunter's motivations were.

Again, there was no comment from Hunter or Jones as talk swirled at Olympic Park today.

Asked about the Daily Telegraph story at today's daily IOC press briefing, Carrard said, "The C. J. Hunter matter is not a matter of concern to the Olympic Games. The testing was done elsewhere. He is not competing here. In that sense, it's not a matter on our agenda."

Fair enough. But anyone who thinks the cloud from this story doesn't cast a shadow over the Olympics is naive.

Marion Jones is a wonderful athlete and maybe the biggest star of the Games, her "Drive for Five" of worldwide interest. But now there are questions. What, if anything, did she know? And what, if anything, has she done?

The hope is that she's clean. Having never flunked a test, she certainly warrants the presumption of innocence.

But track's dirty fingers are trying to reach out and stain her, and the timing couldn't be worse.

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