New York Daily News - http://www.nydailynews.com
Marion is back on fast track
BY IAN BEGLEY
DAILY NEWS SPORTS WRITER
Sunday, June 4th, 2006

Barry Bonds wasn't the only star embroiled in the BALCO controversy to appear in the Big Apple yesterday.

Marion Jones, the sprinter who's been hounded by steroid allegations for the past two years, won the women's 100-meter race at the Reebok Grand Prix at Icahn Stadium on Randall's Island, with a time of 11.06.

Running in just her third race in the past 11 months, Jones led from the start and held off a late charge from 2004 gold medalist Veronica Campbell.

Jones quickly dismissed any notion that returning to competition provided a respite from the BALCO controversy.

"Returning to the track doesn't take my mind off it," she said. "The allegations are there and will be there, but now I'm focused."

Jones performed in the same overcast, breezy conditions as Bonds, her BALCO buddy, but she encountered a much warmer reception than the Shea faithful offered the Giants slugger. There were a few smattered boos during her introduction, but they were quickly drowned out by a loud ovation.

"The fans were great and I want to thank everyone out there for supporting me," Jones said.

Jones, 30, has never been caught using performance-enhancing drugs, and she repeatedly has denied taking them. But in December 2004, BALCO founder Victor Conte said that he supplied her with drugs and witnessed Jones injecting herself with them. She later was called to testify before the BALCO grand jury.

Jones filed a $25-million defamation suit against Conte in response to the allegations, which was settled out of court. Jones has a 3-year-old son with former world-record holder Tim Montgomery, who was hit with a two-year ban for steroid use in December 2005. Steve Rid****, her most recent coach, was arrested with Montgomery in April and charged with money-laundering.

She also has been coached by Trevor Graham, the man who turned in the dirty syringe that touched off the BALCO scandal. In the midst of the BALCO allegations, Jones performed miserably at the 2004 Athens Games. She finished fifth in the long jump and later pulled out of the 2005 national championships, citing injury.

Jones was the darling of American track and field in 2000, when she became the first woman to win five medals (three gold, two bronze) in the Sydney Summer Games. But even there, at the height of her popularity, she couldn't avoid being surrounded by the cloud of steroid controversy.

Shot putter C.J. Hunter, Jones' husband at the time, tested positive for steroids at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta and was banned from the Games.

After her 11-month hiatus, Jones returned to competition in Mexico in May, where she won the 100-meter race with an 11.06. She also won the 100-meters last weekend in the Netherlands with an 11.16.

"The hardest thing for me the past two years is not being competitive," said Jones, who will race in the 2006 U.S. outdoor championships in Indianapolis in three weeks. "I'm taking it step-by-step, day-by-day and race-by-race. The biggest thing is the confidence level."

The last time Jones raced on Randall's Island was 1991, at Downing Stadium for the U.S. Championships.

"That was the first time I met Carl Lewis," Jones said. "I was a wide-eyed teenager. . . . It feels like a whole other lifetime."