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Philip Hersh: Marion Jones sings the same old song to Oprah

October 29, 2008 | 11:45 am

Marion CHICAGO -- Marion Jones may have learned that lies led to her spending six months in prison.

But she apparently still hasn’t learned to face up to the entire truth about her use of performance-enhancing drugs.

That was evident in the post-prison interview Jones gave to Oprah Winfrey last week that aired today. The show was devoted entirely to the interview, during which Jones broke into tears three times.

Jones continued to insist she was unaware that she was being given a performance-enhancing drug by her coach, Trevor Graham, and that she never questioned the nature of the substance he gave her. "I thought I was taking a supplement," she said. " ... Never knowingly did I take performance enhancing drugs."

Sorry, Marion, but it is hard to buy that.

You are an intelligent woman. You were nearly 25 years old when you won five medals (three gold) at the Olympics in 2000, the year when you said Graham first gave you a

substance later identified as the steroid, tetrahydrogestrinone (THG), known as "The Clear."

And now you want us to believe that you were responsible only for "not being more careful with the people I associated with and not questioning people more?"

Maybe, Marion, the problem is you have become something of a pathological liar.

You lied to federal investigators about use of performance-enhancing drugs.

You lied to federal investigators about your role in a money-laundering scheme.

Now you want us to believe that you were totally unaware of what was going into your body after years of competing at a level where one failed drug test could end your career?

"I thought everyone on that track [in Sydney] was drug-free, including myself," Jones told Oprah.

Prosecutors filed a memorandum saying Jones used more drugs than she admitted to.

The federal judge who sentenced Jones clearly did not buy her defense of ignorance about using THG.

Neither should anyone else.

The only thing Jones still admits to is making a bad choice by lying. She ascribed her bad choices to a combination of naivete and, as she told Oprah, "childhood trauma."

She apologized to the relay teammates who lost their medals because of her lies -- but not her doping -- saying she never intended to harm any of them.

"I apologize for my actions to lie to federal prosecutors and I apologize for having to put everybody through all of this," she said.

Oprah asked if she felt the effects of the THG.

"Yes and no," Jones said. "There were moments I felt I had more energy on the track."

Oprah asked if Jones wondered whether she had won because of the drug.

"There are moments I will go through the races in my mind and ask myself, 'If you hadn’t been given The Clear, do you think you would have won or ran fast?' I usually answer yes. I still think I would have won but just the fact there is question mark, to me it is not fair for anyone I ran against or the women I ran with on the relays."

At one point in the interview, Jones said the medals stripped from her were "just hardware," that the real loss is in the memories that have been tarnished for her and her family. Later, she said, "To have to give up my gold medals is horrible."

In the end, after Jones tearfully read a letter that she had sent from prison to her children, Jones explained her lying owed to a lack of self-respect.

"I didn't love myself enough to tell the truth.  I have hidden behind my obvious talent for much of my life for fear that the weak, sad, hurt and vulnerable Marion would emerge and ruin the plan for my life.'' *

Jones said people now would have to accept her as Marion Jones the person, not Marion Jones the athlete.

Marion Jones the athlete turned out to be a fraud.   

-- Philip Hersh

*A more complete version of this quote was inserted at 12:30 p.m.

Photo: Former Olympic medalist Marion Jones with Oprah Winfrey during taping of the "The Oprah Winfrey Show."  Credit: Harpo Productions Inc.

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