Friday, October 12, 2007

Marion Jones To Enter 2008 Tour De France

The past week has not been kind to sprinter Marion Jones. After years of steadfast denials, she admitted to having used performance-enhancing drugs. This mea culpa came as she pled guilty to lying to federal investigators about her involvement in the BALCO case, as well as check fraud. Jones returned her five medals from the 2000 Sydney Olympics and retired from track and field, from which she had been suspended for two years. However, the disgraced speedster has already found an alternative to fill the void. Today Jones announced her plans to enter the 2008 Tour de France.

Jones explained her decision thusly: “Most people assume that everyone in the Tour de France is on steroids. So I’ll feel right at home!” Indeed, Floyd Landis was recently stripped of his 2006 title due to a failed drug test after Stage 17 of that Tour. That same year, pre-race favorites Jan Ullrich and Ivan Basso were barred from competing on the eve of the race due to doping allegations. In 2007, leader Michael Rasmussen was removed from the race with four stages remaining, amid a dispute with the Danish Cycling Union over his availability for previous drug tests. While 7-time winner Lance Armstrong has never been sanctioned, he continues to be dogged by doping allegations. Jones would fit right in with this environment, even if she breaks away from the peloton to win a stage. She’ll not only be in the clear, she’ll be ON The Clear.

If possible, cycling seems even more drug-infested than track and field. Jones’s admission was stunning to sports fans, at least the ones who ignored that her ex-husband, shot-putter C.J. (“Caught Juicing”) Hunter, was a confirmed drug cheat. Or that the same was true of sprinter Tim Montgomery, the father of her child. Or that her name was all over the BALCO investigation and within the pages of Game of Shadows. Or that fellow track athletes continued to implicate her for doping. Or that…

In response to Jones’s admission, United States Olympic Committee Chairman Peter Ueberroth apologized to the people of Australia for the impact on the 2000 Games. He noted that one of the returned gold medals would be sent to boxer Roy Jones, Jr., since “he’s a Jones who actually deserved the gold!” Ueberroth also vowed, “We are pledging that we will have a totally clean team for the 2008 games in Beijing." In related news, next year’s U.S. Olympic contingent will consist of the rhythmic gymnastics and archery teams.

Most Tour insiders are skeptical that a cycling novice like Jones will be competitive. However, she has shown that she can succeed in sports other than track and field, having played for North Carolina’s 1994 NCAA women’s basketball champions. Having ruled on the (Chapel) Hill, she feels confident that she can do so in the mountains. Jones has already petitioned tour officials in an effort to improve her chances. She has requested that each stage of the race be exactly 100 meters long.

Whatever the result, her new athletic endeavor will likely prove beneficial for Jones. Currently, she has been besieged by bad publicity in her home country. By participating in the Tour de France, she will avoid any publicity at all in the United States. She will also be a trend-setter as the only woman on The Tour (though a much shorter Women’s Tour de France does exist). Facing potential jail time, Jones could achieve another historic first if she takes the overall lead. She would be the first Tour leader to forgo the traditional yellow jersey in favor of an orange jumpsuit.

Her Tour participation should also help from a financial perspective, especially while the International Association of Athletics Federations seeks to recover prize money and appearance fees from Jones. Tour winnings would help cover amounts owed to the IAAF, but potentially even more lucrative is a pending book collaboration with British author Helen Fielding. The women would join efforts on Marion Jones’s Diary, in which the speedster would intersperse recaps of the race with a neurotic outlook on weight struggles, smoking, drinking, and her obsession with Mark Darcy. A film adaptation is already rumored, with the part of Marion Jones to be played by either RenĂ©e Zellweger or Barry Bonds.

It remains to be seen how Marion Jones will adapt to the Tour de France. However, the Olympic movement is showing that it will adjust to the current drug-laden environment. Reportedly, organizers for the Beijing Games are planning a new touch for the lead-in to the opening ceremonies. Rather than a torch relay, a series of runners will pass a syringe to each other.