Marion Jones <a target="new" returned to the track Wednesday for the first time since she appeared with her husband, world-champion shot-putter C.J. Hunter, as he defended himself against charges he has used performance-enhancing drugs. Jones breezed through a preliminary heat in the 200 meters, and qualified for the long jump final on her first try.
But the plight of her husband -- who isn't even competing in Sydney -- has unleashed a furor likely to last the rest of the Games. On Wednesday, it prompted bitter sniping between U.S. Olympic officials, angry that Hunter's positive test results were leaked, and International Olympic Committee officials, who assert that the United States is quick to cry foul on other countries for using drugs, but zealously hides information when its own athletes flunk dope tests. "We feel, yes, it's OK to criticize," Gerhard Heiberg, an IOC delegate from Norway, told the New York Times. "At the same time we feel your house is not in order. We feel you do not tell us the truth [about] what is happening in the United States. You want us to be open instead of sweeping everything under the carpet. That has to go for the U.S. as well. We're a little irritated."
The athletes themselves increasingly feel as though a witch hunt is underway. Their case won't be helped by U.S. drug czar Barry McCaffrey, who lunged for a cameo in the controversy by demanding that U.S. track and field (USATF) officials release the names of U.S. athletes under investigation. "It is our view that the most appropriate way to respond to allegations of impropriety -- in particular accusations of complicity in doping -- is to let the facts speak for themselves," McCaffrey wrote in a letter to USATF director Craig Masback. Masback told McCaffrey that a "small number" of drug cases are under review, but that "American law, USOC arbitration precedent and our own rules require that we treat athletes as innocent until proven guilty and that we maintain the confidentiality of our process."
Others, meanwhile, are wondering if "the Olympic war on drugs exists for the same reasons as the real-world war on drugs. It provides jobs for the drug fighters and political capital for politicians who know that it looks good to look like you're anti-drugs."
Devers out; Jones' chances dashed?
Getting less attention is that, psychological hurdles aside, Jones' chances in two events, both relays, have been severely hampered by injury and poor performances in the Games. Gail Devers pulled up lame with a hinky hamstring during the 100-meter hurdles Wednesday, an event she has dominated for much of the past decade, while never, tragically, winning an Olympic medal. More important to Jones, Devers, a two-time gold medalist in the 100-meter dash, is likely to miss the 4-by-100-meter relay, as will Jones' fiercest competitor, Inger Miller, also out with a hamstring pull. That means the U.S. team will be relying on a second string in that relay. The American women in Sydney had an abysmal showing in the 400 meters, with none making the final. That means Jones is likely to anchor the 4-by-400-meter relay -- a distance she rarely runs -- supported by runners who aren't running well.
Suddenly, Jones looks as if she'll be lucky to capture even three gold medals.
The gold for purple prose
The most emotional competition, meanwhile, is taking place among sports hacks, desperate to strike the appropriate pose, to convey the appropriate drama, to have their Mailer moment while pounding out their deadline dispatches about the Jones saga. The most popular themes:
The noble plea for civility:
"Before we begin making character indictment-by-association, before we declare anyone a blemished phenomenon just as she has gotten off the block, let us remind ourselves that regardless of what her husband has been caught doing, Jones can still have America's blessings as she goes for more gold." (Harvey Araton in the New York Times)
The teary sense of loss:
"In that dazzling asymmetric smile, there seems to be an innocence about her, and it is very touching. She had everybody in the stadium sharing her victory celebrations. Innocence isn't something you necessarily believe in heart and soul, especially not in track and field. But you cannot help but respond to the appearance of innocence." (Simon Barnes in the Times of London)
"Did the darling of the track stoop so low as to lie outright to protect her burly husband C.J. Hunter and perpetuate one of the great frauds of the Sydney Olympic Games?" (Jacquelin Magnay in the Sydney Morning Herald)
Inappropriate sexual subtexts paired with howlingly bad purple prose:
"It's gone, you know.
"Just like that.
"Vanished, in the time it takes for a whisper to reach an ear, in the time it takes for a tear to reach a cheek.
"The aura, the wonder, the glow, gone.
"Marion Jones may win her five Olympic gold medals this week, as she has bravely promised often during the last two years.
"But it turns out that our purest hope has been living with a guy who isn't. And defending a guy who isn't."
(Bill Plaschke in the Los Angeles Times)
Gymnasts toe party line
The Romanian teammates of Andreea Raducan returned the medals they won as a sign of protest against the IOC's decision to strip the 16-year-old gymnast of her Olympic gold medal in the all-around after she tested positive for a banned drug she apparently picked up in an over-the-counter cold medicine. Also, the Sydney Morning Herald reports that "Australian Romanians are being asked to give money to help replace the [$28,000 U.S.] that Raducan will lose under the Romanian Olympic Committee's medal reward scheme."
In another good bitchy aside, the Herald reports that while the Australian gymnastics team was "sympathetic" to Raducan, "it's believed the Russian camp wanted Raducan to be stripped of all medals."
Another Romanian gets booted
Latest to go: the women's world-record hammer thrower, who was escorted off the track when the results of her drug tests came out.
U.S. finally beats Cuba in baseball
The Americans finished on top, marking the first time the Cubans won't take home gold in baseball since it became an Olympic sport in 1992.
Venus takes gold
Venus Williams, who hasn't lost a match since winning Wimbledon in July, won the gold easily by defeating Russia's Elena Dementieva 6-2, 6-4. She next teams up with her sister, Serena, for the gold medal match Thursday.
A king falls
In one of the most shocking Olympic upsets ever, unheralded American Rulon Gardner defeated Russian three-time gold medalist Aleksandr Karelin, who had an astonishing 13-year unbeaten streak, for the super-heavyweight wrestling gold medal 1-0 Wednesday. Of his victory, and of the enormous Karelin, Gardner said: "He's so big and nasty, it's like a horse pushing you. I'm not as strong as him -- not even close. I knew if I let him push me around, get even two or three points on me, it was over."