By Chris Chase
Disgraced track star Marion Jones, who went from gold medals to orange jumpsuits during the course of the decade, is looking to make a comeback. But it’s not in the sport you might think.
Released from prison last year after serving a six month sentence for lying about her doping use, the five-time Olympic medalist is looking to make a comeback to basketball. Jones will begin training for a return to basketball and hopes to play this winter in Europe before debuting in the WNBA in 2010. In college, Jones played point guard for the women’s basketball team at North Carolina, helping the Tar Heels to a 33-2 record and a national championship in 1994 as a freshman.
Jones then focused on track, becoming one of the star’s of the sport for her prowess in the springs and long jump. Even though she fell short of her stated goal of five gold medals in the 2000 Sydney Olympics, Jones still won three (and two bronzes) and became the American star of the Games. Two years ago, after admitting to doping before Sydney, those medals were stripped and Jones was sent to prison for lying to federal agents investigating the doping scandals.
In May, while pregnant with her third child, Jones received a phone call suggesting she play in the WNBA. In October, she began training. Jones told the New York Times about her decision:
“I thought it would be an interesting journey if I decided to do this. It would give me an opportunity to share my message to young people on a bigger platform; it would give me an opportunity to get a second chance.”
It’s a great idea for both parties. Any press is good press for the floundering WNBA, which has seen some of its once-strong franchises (Houston, Detroit) fold or relocate in recent years. Jones was a star before her scandal and could be again. Americans love their reclamation projects.
For Jones, she’s either been vilified or, even worse, forgotten by the general public since Sydney. The medals and good name won’t come back, but perhaps Jones can get her name back in the news for something other than scandal.
It won’t be easy though. Jones is 34 and hasn’t seriously competed in athletics since 2002. At her peak she was one of the most well-conditioned athletes in the world, but inactivity, prison, natural aging and three pregnancies aren’t exactly the best training regimen.
Still, if Jones stays dedicated, she should have no trouble making it to the WNBA. The league is desperate for marketing and Jones would provide loads of free publicity. Time will only tell if she’s able to contribute to a team and begin the long road to recovering her reputation.