WHITE PLAINS, New York - Three-time Olympic champion Marion Jones has pleaded guilty to lying to US government investigators when she denied using performance-enhancing drugs, and subsequently announced her retirement from athletics.
Marion Jones lowers her head while speaking to the media after leaving the US Federal Courthouse in White Plains, New York October 5, 2007. [Reuters]
Outside the courthouse, Jones broke down in tears Friday as she apologized for her actions, saying she fully understands she has disappointed her friends, family and supporters.
"It's with a great amount of shame that I stand before you and tell you that I have betrayed your trust," Jones said, pausing frequently to regain her composure while her mother stood behind her, a supportive hand on her daughter's shoulder.
"I have been dishonest, and you have the right to be angry with me. I have let (my family) down. I have let my country down, and I have let myself down," she said. "I recognize that by saying I'm deeply sorry, it might not be enough and sufficient to address the pain and hurt that I've caused you.
"Therefore, I want to ask for your forgiveness for my actions, and I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive me."
Jones and her mother embraced afterward, the elder Jones telling her daughter, "Good job." The two then climbed into a black limousine with one of Jones' attorneys and drove away without taking questions.
In court, Jones, seated at the defense table and speaking in a clear voice through a microphone, Jones said she lied to a federal investigator in November 2003 when he asked if she had used performance-enhancing drugs.
"I answered that I had not. This was a lie, your honor," she said.
She also pleaded guilty to a second count of lying to investigators about her association with a check-fraud conspiracy.
Jones said she took steroids from September 2000 to July 2001 and said she was told by her then-coach Trevor Graham that she was taking flaxseed oil when it was actually "the clear" - a designer steroid.
"I consumed this substance several times before the Sydney Olympics and continued using it after," Jones told the judge. "By November 2003, I realized he was giving me performance-enhancing drugs."
She said she "felt different, trained more intensely" and experienced "faster recovery and better times" while using the substance.
"He told me to put it under my tongue for a few seconds and swallow it," she said. "He told me not to tell anyone."
Jones was released on her own recognizance and was due back in court January 11 for sentencing.
In the check-fraud scheme, Jones admitted lying about her knowledge of the involvement of Tim Montgomery, the former sprint world record holder and the father of her son Monty, in a scheme to cash millions of dollars worth of stolen or forged checks. Montgomery; Jones' longtime agent Charles Wells; and a former coach, Olympian Steve Riddick, have all been convicted in the scam.
Prosecutors have suggested to Jones that the prison term will be a maximum of six months, although the judge has the discretion to change that. The maximum sentence on each count is five years and a $250,000 (euro177,000) fine.
"It's bittersweet," said Travis Tygart, chief executive officer of the US Anti-Doping Agency. "Any time a potential American hero admits to cheating us sports fans, people who watch Olympic games, it's bittersweet. Similarly, clean athletes who do it right, who do it ethically, who play by the rules, and honorably, I think have a sense of vindication today."
The International Olympic Committee already has opened an investigation into doping allegations against Jrug developed by the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative (BALCO), a San Francisco lab at the center of the steroids scandal in American professional sports and the focus of the US government's investigation.
Besides Jones, Montgomery and recently crowned US Major League Baseball career home run leader Barry Bonds have been linked to BALCO. All there were among the more than two dozen athletes who testified before a grand jury in 2003.