M. Jones bristles at reporters' drug theme

Track star threatens suit if she can't run in Athens

Phelps gets easier ride

May 17, 2004|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

NEW YORK - Meet the Press wasn't just a Sunday staple for politicians yesterday, as Marion Jones and Michael Phelps received radically different receptions at the U.S. Olympic Committee's Media Summit.

Jones, the track and field star of the 2000 Olympics, was grilled about the BALCO steroids scandal and the perception that she is a cheat. She threatened legal action if the USOC attempts to keep her out of the Olympics.

Phelps, conversely, did not face one question about drugs. A year removed from Towson High, Phelps is a fresh-faced swimming sensation who is expected to do big things at this summer's games in Athens, Greece. He was asked what it's like for an 18-year-old from a relatively obscure sport to find his likeness on credit card applications.

The 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia, became an ordeal for Jones when news broke that her then-husband, C.J. Hunter, was sitting out the games not with an injury, but because of a doping suspension. Hunter's plight was explained in Sydney by Victor Conte, the founder of the BALCO lab at the center of a scandal that has tainted baseball star Barry Bonds, among others.

Jones has testified before a grand jury investigating the company's trafficking in designer steroids and other banned substances. The USOC wants to use BALCO testimony - what is termed "non-analytical evidence" - to ban athletes. USOC Chef de Mission in Greece Herman Frazier said "we'll do everything we can to ensure that we take a clean team," an approach that riles Jones.

"To keep an athlete out of the Olympic Games because of something that's not been tested for, that's totally unfair," Jones said. "We live in the United States, where you're innocent until proven guilty. What USADA [U.S. Anti-Doping Agency] is saying is that athletes are guilty without an investigation. If I make the Olympic team and am held out of the Olympic Games, you can bet that there will be lawsuits. I'm not going to let people take away my livelihood because of a hunch."

Jones won three golds, a silver and a bronze in 2000, an unprecedented haul in her sport but short of her "Drive for Five" golds. Phelps is the source of similar hype.

"I hope you guys are as difficult on him as you were on me," Jones said. "Just because he's a guy ... my five gold medals revelation was viewed as cocky. I don't think there's any reason to beat around the bush. He's going there [to Athens] to make history. I wish him the best."

The Media Summit draws dozens of athletes and hundreds of reporters. The routine calls for a few minutes on a ballroom stage with prospective teammates, then less formal "breakout" interviews. Only the biggest stars, like Jones and Phelps, remain on stage in a news conference environment.

Wearing a white blouse and tan khakis, Jones explained the no-show of the father of her infant child, as Tim Montgomery, the world's fastest human, remained at their North Carolina home, sick. Phelps came from a workout at Asphalt Green in T-shirt and sweat pants.

Phelps on Mark Spitz, whose seven gold medals from 1972 have become a measuring stick: "It makes it exciting to be compared to the icon of swimming, the icon of the Olympics."

Phelps on the pool in Athens not having a roof: "Lane lines and water is all you need."

On expectations: "I came home from Sydney with nothing. Bringing back a gold medal to the U.S. would be an honor for me."

Veteran swimmer Gary Hall Jr. was having none of that.

"If you're gonna win seven gold medals," Hall said, "you might as well win eight."

Phelps began this week in a Times Square hotel, and will conclude it at the Santa Clara International Invitational. Saturday's schedule has him facing the only men who beat him last year, Ian Crocker in the 100 butterfly and Aaron Peirsol in the 200 backstroke.

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