SAN FRANCISCO - Not long ago, Marion Jones was a darling of the American sports scene, a powerful sprinter with explosive strides, a blur going down the track.
Now she cuts a starkly different figure, a woman standing her ground against speculation about steroids and questions from anti-doping authorities. With the clock ticking down to the Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece, and her ex-husband talking to investigators, Jones faces the specter of charges that could ban her from the games.
Rather than duck the controversy, the five-time Olympic medalist has mounted a fiercely public defense with help from lawyers and Al Gore's former spokesman. Yesterday, at the latest in a series of news conferences, she denounced the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency as a "secret kangaroo court," and called for an open hearing to clear her name.
Her request was quickly rejected by anti-doping officials, who are still conducting their investigation.
Jones has not been formally accused of doping violations. But this latest salvo reflects the increasing tension in a high-stakes battle.
"Despite all of its leaks and rumor mongering, USADA has yet to produce a single shred of credible evidence against me," Jones said yesterday.
The scandal began last September when federal agents raided a nutritional supplement company called the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative, or BALCO, collecting what prosecutors say is evidence of steroid distribution to dozens of high-profile athletes.
USADA, a quasi-independent organization that oversees drug testing for U.S. Olympic athletes, obtained BALCO evidence and launched its own investigation, racing to keep cheaters out of the Olympics.
The investigation has been controversial. Most often, USADA pursues athletes after a positive drug test. In this case, the evidence has been circumstantial, consisting of e-mails, canceled checks and other BALCO documents.
Standing defiantly before the microphone, a black drape in the background, a solemn Jones decried USADA and said she might turn to the U.S. Senate, though it was unclear whether elected officials would intervene.
"Throughout all this, I have maintained my sincere belief that if the process is fair, that in the end the truth would prevail and my name would be cleared," she said. "However, the events of the last several weeks have led me, more in sadness than in anger, to the conclusion that USADA is not engaged in a fair process."
The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.