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On the Right Track: From Olympic Downfall to Finding Forgiveness and the Strength to Overcome and Succeed
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On the Right Track: From Olympic Downfall to Finding Forgiveness and the Strength to Overcome and Succeed [Hardcover]

Marion Jones , Ph.D. Maggie Greenwood-Robinson Ph.D.
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

It’s easy to be cynical about a mea culpa from an athlete who now admits she took performance-enhancing drugs. The drugs contributed to the five medals Jones won at the 2000 Summer Olympics. After her triumph, Jones lied to federal agents investigating the use of illegal PEDs and her knowledge of a check-fraud scheme. Jail time followed. She was stripped of her medals. The money spigot (from commercials and appearance fees) was turned off. Her athletic career was gone. Jones isn’t the first to write a book to explain her actions and document her sorrow—and, perhaps, to get herself back in the public eye. Setting aside cynicism and accepting her at her word, however, Jones hopes the book will be a cautionary tale for those faced with the choices she faced and an inspirational instructional for those—like her—who’ve made errors and need to reestablish their integrity. Readers hoping for a look inside the seamy PED culture will be disappointed; this isn’t that book. It is a forthright account of one athlete’s dizzying rise to fame, her precipitous fall, and the unexpected ramifications of both journeys. --Wes Lukowsky


“A revealing and humbling account of a strong woman's pain of self-discovery . . . and how one bad decision, a decision made in less than 30 seconds, can change your life forever." (Robin Roberts, Good Morning America Anchor)

“Marion's story is a powerful, poignant reminder to us all that being true to yourself provides the power required to achieve success, endure profound failure, and be successful again." (Jackie-Joyner Kersee, Olympic medalist)

"A forthright account of one athlete’s dizzying rise to fame, her precipitous fall, and the unexpected ramifications of both journeys." (Booklist Review)

About the Author

Marion Jones is a former world champion track and field athlete. She won five medals at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia but voluntarily returned all her Olympic medals and forfieted all her race results from September 2000 after admitting she lied to federal investigators about her use of a performance-enhancing drug.

After her release from prison, Marion sought to take her experiences and encourage others to learn from them. She is actively speaking to teens and other groups and spreading her "Take a Break" message through which she advices young people to stop, take a break, think and seek proper advice from people you trust and who have your best interests at heart before making critical decisions that will have a profound impact on their lives. In short, Marion encourages young and older people alike to stay on track and just do what's right.

Currently, Marion is living a dream deferred and is playing professional basketball as a Rookie for the WNBA team the Tulsa Shock in 2010. She and her husband and children make their home in Austin, Texas.

Maggie Greenwood-Robinson is an accomplished author, co-author, and ghostwriter who has written more than 45 books in the areas of psychology, health, and inspiration. She wrote The Biggest Loser, a New York Times bestseller that was the official diet/fitness book for NBC’s hit reality show of the same name.

Maggie has worked with several high-profile authors, including a popular daytime talk show host, two well-known television doctors, and an international tennis star. Maggie is a member of the Dr. Phil Show Advisory Board and consults regularly on the show’s content. She resides in Dallas, Texas.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.


As the cameras clicked and the videotapes rolled, I stepped up to a battalion of microphones stationed in front of the West-chester County Federal Courthouse in White Plains, New York. It was Friday, October 5, 2007, an unseasonably warm day. The treetops swayed with occasional gusts of wind. There was a long ribbon of people across the street, shouting “We love you, Marion.” I didn’t know any of them, but they were like angels sent from God to wrap their wings around me on one of the lowest days of my life.

My mother, other relatives, and close supporters stood behind me and around me like sturdy pillars. A swarm of reporters and photographers was arrayed on the steps of the brick-faced courthouse, all jockeying for spots near the microphones.

Moments earlier, I had been inside the building, standing before U.S. District Judge Kenneth Karas. Karas is a bespectacled man with a shock of brown hair and a stern, hard-nosed manner. His courtroom looked like something straight out of a legal drama, with wood-paneled walls, pews, and a sign above the judge’s head that said “In God We Trust.” It was filled to capacity with journalists from around the world. The proceeding was televised on closed-circuit television to a nearby overflow room.

I was stoic and scared at the same time. I pled guilty to two charges: lying in 2003 to federal investigators about my use of a performance-enhancing drug and lying to them about my knowledge of a separate check fraud case. In my guilty plea, I told the court that in September 2000, before the Sydney Olympic Games, a former coach first gave me a substance he told me was flaxseed oil. As it turned out, the “flaxseed oil” was a performance-enhancing drug (PED) now known as “the clear.”

My eyes never strayed from Judge Karas’s face. Whenever he uttered the ramifications of my guilty plea, using words like “prison,” “felony,” or “punishment,” I simply said, “Yes, I understand.” As he spoke, I thought of the shame I’d brought on my family, the sport of track and field, my former teammates, and my many supporters. I knew I’d spend a very long time trying to make up for the damage I’d caused.

Judge Karas said he wanted to schedule my sentencing hearing for January fourth. I leaned over to my attorneys and whispered that January fourth was my mother’s birthday. They politely requested a different date. The judge complied and set my sentencing date for January 11, 2008.

The hearing lasted just thirty minutes. Judge Karas banged his gavel, and the courtroom cleared.

I was not only in emotional pain, but physical pain too. I was still breast-feeding my second son, Amir, who was home in Austin being cared for by my husband Obadele Thompson. I had packed my breast pump in my suitcase so I could pump milk and not become engorged, but a piece of the pump broke off during the trip. The pump wouldn’t work, so I couldn’t pump any milk. My breasts got so engorged that I thought they might explode. They started leaking. By the end of the hearing, my pink blouse, hidden thankfully under my dark pinstriped suit, was soaked with breast milk. My breasts hurt so much that it was painful to hug people.

Outside the courtroom, a crush of people awaited my statement, which I had written in the days leading up to my courtroom appearance. I took a deep breath. I did my best to make eye contact with all who were there.

“Good afternoon, everyone. I am Marion Jones-Thompson, and I am here today because I have something very important to tell you, my fans, my friends, and my family.

“Over the many years of my life as an athlete in the sport of track and field, you have been fiercely loyal and supportive towards me. Even more loyal and supportive than words can declare has been my family, and especially my dear mother, who stands by my side today.”

I felt like crying, and then I did cry. I choked back the sobs, but I could not hold back the tears. I was wracked with humiliation and then by free-floating remorse. I paused to regain my composure.

“And so it is with a great amount of shame that I stand before you and tell you that I have betrayed your trust,” I continued, bowing my head briefly. “I want all you to know that today I pled guilty to two counts of making false statements to federal agents.

“Making these false statements to federal agents was an incredibly stupid thing for me to do, and I am fully responsible for my actions. I have no one to blame but myself for what I have done.

“To you, my fans—including my young supporters—the United States Track and Field Association, my closest friends, my attorneys, and the most classy family a person could ever hope for—namely my mother, my husband, my children, my brother and his family, my uncle, and the rest of my extended family: I want you to know that I have been dishonest. And you have the right to be angry with me.”

By then I was sobbing so hard I could barely catch my breath. I bit my lip and went on.

“I have let them down. I have let my country down. And I have let myself down.

“I recognize that by saying that I’m deeply sorry, it might not be enough and sufficient to address the pain and the hurt that I have 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.

“I have asked Almighty God for forgiveness.

“Having said this, and because of my actions, I am retiring from the sport of track and field, a sport which I deeply love.”

My voice was cracking and tears streamed down my face.

“I promise that these events will be used to help make the lives of others improve, to show that making the wrong choices and bad decisions can be disastrous.

“I want to thank you all for your time.”

I could see the hands clapping, but I barely heard the applause.

The calm strength I had tried to display in the courtroom was gone, washed away by a flood of tears. I embraced my mother and cried. We then threaded through the throng, climbed into an awaiting car with both of my attorneys, Hill Allen and Henry DePippo, and drove away without taking any questions.

But for me, questions remained. What would be my punishment? Would I go to jail? I prayed not. My young children and husband needed me.

My ordeal was what the media would call a “stunning fall from grace.” For more than a decade, I had been hailed as the “the fastest woman on the planet.” At the 2000 Olympic Games, I became the first woman ever to win five medals at one Olympics. That same year, the Associated Press and ESPN named me “Athlete of the Year.” I was on the cover of Vogue, Time, Newsweek, and Sports Illustrated. I seemed to have it all—fame, fortune, talent, and international acclaim. Now it was gone—all of it, because I had exercised bad judgment, made bad decisions, and lied about it all when it was absolutely essential to tell the truth.

We drove away from the courthouse in silence. I rested my head against the seat back and stared vacantly out the window. There is an old African proverb that goes something like this: “A concealed disease can’t be healed.” Confession is always good for the soul. Deep down, I knew that my confession was the beginning of the healing process for me.

For most of us, the words “I’m sorry” are the two hardest words to say. I know they are for me. I used to assume that if I apologized, I’d show weakness. But it is just the opposite. I believe that most people appreciate honesty and the courage it takes to admit your own mistakes and failings. When I travel around the country now, people approach and tell me that they don’t think they could have done what I did—admit that I had made mistakes and lied about it—because it’s hard for them to own up to their wrongs privately, let alone do so publicly in front of the whole world. If we truly want or need forgiveness, we’ll need to apologize. Apology begins the process of healing, correction, and restoration.

Events leading up to my downfall began four years earlier, in November 2003 . . .

It began when I was subpoenaed by a federal grand jury in San Francisco to testify as a witness in a federal investigation—the now infamous Bay Area Laboratory Cooperative (BALCO) case—which was looking into, among other things, illegal steroid distribution.

In early September 2003, the feds raided the BALCO facilities and confiscated containers of performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs)—steroids, human growth hormone, synthetic testosterone—and files with the names of several professional athletes.

In June 2003, a coach anonymously sent a syringe containing traces of an unknown substance to the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) for analysis. In August 2003, the USADA commissioned a renowned expert in performance-enhancing drugs to analyze the substance. He determined that the substance in the syringe was, in fact, a performance-enhancing drug known as THG. Because THG was undetectable in drug tests commonly administered to athletes, it was labeled “the clear.”

Essentially, if athletes ingested THG, their urine would be “clear,” and the drug would not show up in the test results. Apparently, “the clear” was one of the substances confiscated during the federal government’s raid of the BALCO labs.

As a result of the raid, the federal grand jury in San Francisco subpoenaed some forty athletes, including me, baseball superstars Barry Bonds and Jason Giambi, several NFL players, and others to testify about BALCO and seek evidence to determine if the company was a front for an illegal steroid-distribution ring catering to elite athletes. My former boyfriend, then 100-meter world-record holder Tim Montgomery, was also scheduled to appear before the grand jury.

After I was served with my subpoena, my attorneys, Rich Nichols and Joe Burton, spent three eight-hour sessions prepping me for what the AUSA, the federal investigator, and up to twenty-four grand jurors, composed of citizens selected from voter registration, driver’s license, and tax lists, might ask me. My attorneys, Joe and Rich, are long-time, trusted friends who specialize in white-collar defense and legal management. They both impressed upon me that a federal grand jury appearance is “serious stuff.” You never know what questions will be fired at you. The grand jury system by its nature is highly secretive, and everyone fears it. Above all, you MUST tell the truth!

Ten days prior to my scheduled grand jury appearance, Rich and Joe made a strategic decision. They reached out to the government and offered to present me to the AUSA and the federal investigator for a pre-grand jury appearance interview. The purpose: to have an opportunity to see what information the government possessed prior to my grand jury appearance and to get a feel for the questions the government might ask me in the grand jury. The risk with such an interview: if you lie to the AUSA and the federal agent during the interview, you could be prosecuted for lying to them and you can be sent to jail.

So, to encourage truth telling during these interviews, the government gives witnesses like me one-day immunity in the form of an agreement called a “queen for a day” letter. Essentially, this letter is a written agreement between federal prosecutors and individuals that permits these individuals to be questioned by the federal agents not under oath and without the risk of being prosecuted for anything the witness tells the government during the interview. Thus, under this procedure, no matter what you tell them, they can’t use what you tell them during the interview to prosecute you, ever.

But here’s the catch: You can’t lie during a queen-for-a-day session, because making false statements to federal agents, even if not under oath, is a felony offense. You must tell the truth, or risk prosecution for lying. My attorneys explained this to me, over and over.

The feds rarely grant queen-for-a-day sessions, but they did in my case. These sessions are risky business, but we were relieved when the government granted our request to meet with them at the Fairmont Hotel in San Jose.

On that early November morning, my attorneys and I walked into the windowed conference room, with its magnificent panorama of San Jose’s sprawl. The room was elegantly neutral with beige walls, finely upholstered chairs, and a carved mahogany table neatly set with bottled water. I didn’t know what to expect. What did they want from me? What do they think I know? I was nervous, very nervous.

We had been in the conference room for several minutes when I heard the click of the door handle. Striding into the conference room, the assistant U.S. attorney (the AUSA) and the federal agent Jeff Novitsky looked like infantry soldiers prepared to do battle. Novitsky was a six-foot, six-inch, lanky former college basketball player from California with a glistening white bald head. He had initiated the government’s probe into an illegal steroid distribution case and had a reputation for badgering witnesses. They took their seats directly across from Rich, Joe, and me.

The interview started out on a perfunctory note, inquisition style, but not long into the meeting, I began to feel the ooze of provocation and hostility seeping from them.

Novitsky had a brownish leather duffle bag on the floor next to his chair. For two and a half hours, he’d pull documents from the bag and shove them across the table at me. With each document, he’d say, “Do you recognize this?” His speech became increasingly clipped and rapid.

I’d respond “no” in a practiced voice, one trained to stay calm and confident in the face of accusation and allegation. I didn’t feel like I had anything to hide. As the meeting progressed, I could tell they didn’t believe me. They’d ask me the same question over and over, but in different ways. The less my information satisfied them, the more frustrated they got.

Then Novitsky reached into the duffle bag and retrieved two plastic baggies. In one of the baggies was a vial of liquid that looked like light olive oil, in the other, an unlabeled tube of cream. He dangled the baggie with the vial in front of me. “Do you recognize this?

When I saw the substance, of course it could have been anything—the oil I cook with, the oil I used to get from pricking vitamin E capsules to apply on my pimples as a teenager, anything. But I wondered if it was THG, “the clear,” that everyone had been talking about in the news.

From across the table, Novitsky stared at me, contemptuous and unblinking. I had one of those “Oh my God” moments and figured out that yes, it was the clear—a liquid that I believed to be flaxseed oil when I had taken it in September 2000, before and following the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games.

I got a deep, cold feeling inside. Admitting I had used it would be disastrous. My mind at that instant was a snapshot of everything I stood to lose if I revealed the truth—my child’s future, my reputation, my earning power, my athletic career. I decided to lie—and lie willingly.

“No sir, I don’t recognize it.”

He shook the baggie in front of my face. “You mean to tell me you don’t know what this is?”

I lied again. “No, I do not.”

Novitsky glowered at me. “Have you ever taken performance-enhancing drugs?”

“No, I have not.” Another lie.

“Have you ever taken a performance-enhancing drug known as ‘the clear’?”

I swallowed hard and lied again. “No.”

Novitsky abruptly stood up and angrily shook the baggie again. “I know you know something.” His tenacity struck me as comparable to that of a pit bull that had been taunted.

At that point, Joe Burton quickly leaned his fireplug of a body forward. With furrowed eyebrows that peered over his wire-rimmed glasses, he called time out. Rich, a wiry bundle of intelligence and energy, stood up first, signaling his solidarity with Joe. The four men hustled outside the conference room and closed the door.

I shifted in my chair, allowed my shoulders to sink an inch or two, and stared into nothingness. I sold myself on my lies, for the same reasons that a lot of people do: I had done something wrong, I did not want to be found out, and I was frightened of the consequences and repercussions if the truth was revealed. I could not steel-cage my fear. I was frightened at a level more primal than I would have imagined. I feared that my life and the life of my young son, Monty, would be forever changed if the truth were known. I feared losing my athletic career—all I had ever known—and I was too insecure to believe that I could do anything else with my life outside of running track. Lying was a form of self-protection. All the hard work and the sacrifices I had made since I was a kid would be gone in the blink of a moment if I told the truth. I couldn’t let that happen. My answers were not going to change.

Thirty seconds later, the men filed back into the conference room. The questioning resumed, and tension still hung in the air.

In forced, overdetermined civility, Novitsky asked me again, “Look a little closer. Do you know what this is?”

“No sir, I do not know what it is.”

And then, as abruptly as we began, we were done.

When the session was over, I found myself in the precarious position of having lied to the U.S. attorney and to the federal agent about recognizing the substance they showed me. I did recognize it. And I had made that lie even worse by continuing to lie even when I put the pieces together in a flash while sitting in that conference room. What I had been given as a nutritional supplement was, indeed, “the clear,” or THG.

When people ask me, “How could you unknowingly take a performance-enhancing drug?” The answer boils down to the trust factor between athletes and coaches. If a coach comes to an athlete and says, “Take this nutritional supplement; it might help your performance,” you do it. You trust your coach implicitly.

You have to understand that as an elite, world-class athlete, competing at the highest levels, you rely on your coach to be your ultimate caretaker. Your coach prescribes your training programs, nutritional supplements, competition schedules, advice with regard to general nutrition, physical therapy, and rest and recovery.

As an athlete who has had coaches all my life, I learned early on that you just don’t question your coach, ever. The best way to alienate coaches is to complain about their recommendations. Coaches are like a mother, father, big brother, best friend—all in one. They’re dedicated to you, and so you run through the proverbial wall for them every day—in training and practice and in every competition during the season.

In the months that followed, I thought my lie would settle quietly in my mind and, like a bad dream, fade away, but I was wrong. Lies don’t go away, and I could not run from mine. Left uncorrected, lies have a way of getting bigger and taking on a life of their own. More lies are told, or the truth remains hidden to protect the lies already told.

Some people might say: “It’s no big deal; everybody lies.” Well then, how come when we are lied to, we generally feel betrayed and outraged? Because the longer a lie goes unchecked, the more a person’s character is called into question when the truth is revealed.

A lie usually ends up hurting the person who told it more than anyone else. There are always consequences to lying, and they certainly can be unpleasant and even ugly. If you lie on a job application, your employer may be mad, but it is your career and your reputation that is hurt. If you lie to a friend or your family, your relationship with them is damaged, and the trust they had in you disappears and is extremely difficult to get back again. If you lie about large issues like I did—something like a crime or legal offense—you may be painfully punished, and it is hard to heal.

I learned the hard way that it’s always better to tell the truth. That may seem like advice my little Monty hears in kindergarten, but the fact is that a huge percentage of us are too comfortable with lying in many ways. When we are deceitful like I was, deceit has a habit of coming back to haunt us, and in these situations, we are worse off than if we had just come clean in the first place—as uncomfortable as that might have seemed at the time. Lying rarely ever achieves what we hope it will. Somewhere, sometime, someone will find out, and then we have to deal with the hurt, anger, and pain that usually follow.

Another thing I’ve learned about lies is what they want: they want out. The truth is like a beach ball being held under water. It will go down, but it won’t stay under. It constantly tries to rise to the surface. Keeping truth submerged robs a person of integrity, credibility, confidence, peace, and self-esteem.

I had even ensnared people who trusted me into my web of lies—and unknowingly, they lied for me. “She has never taken performance-enhancing drugs, not now, not ever,” Rich Nichols once declared in a statement to the media.

Looking back, I didn’t love myself enough to tell the truth. I thought I was hiding a lie, but really my lie was hiding me. I was too focused on what I did rather than who God created me to be. What we do is important, but what we do ultimately emanates from who we are. I’ve since learned to spend more time on building my character than on building my athletic skills. We can be much more successful in the long run if our skills are high and our character is even higher.

To this day, I still say to myself, “If only I had told the truth . . .” I know now that it’s better to be honest and accept responsibility the way you’d take care of a training injury: fast, thoroughly, with no messing around. This means fully admitting a mistake, apologizing to anyone you may have harmed by your actions, and making any amends you possibly can.

There are the times in our lives when we know we are making the wrong choice. In my case, I wish I had taken a break that day in the Fairmont Hotel conference room, cleared my mind, analyzed my options with my attorneys, and told the truth—in other words, I wish I had done the right thing and gotten on the right track.

The consequences of my actions would never leave me. For a few years, though, it felt as if my life were returning to a semblance of normal. But it wasn’t, not really.

© 2010 Marion Jones
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