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Disgraced Marion Jones Sentenced to Six Months

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

Marion Jones was the darling of the 2000 Summer Olympics, winning five medals and winning over fans. Today, her fall from grace has a hard ending. Jones was sentenced to six months in prison for lying about her use of banned performance enhancing drugs and her knowledge of an illegal check-cashing scheme. Jones has until March 11th to turn herself in.

NPR's Tom Goldman reports.

TOM GOLDMAN: This morning, in a New York federal courtroom, Marion Jones ran into one tough judge. Jones and her lawyers pleaded for leniency - no prison, but probation, perhaps home confinement. Jones asked Judge Kenneth Karas that she not be separated from her two young boys even for a short period of time. I ask you, she said, to be as merciful as a human being can be. Prosecutors had recommended zero jail time to six months in prison, and Karas went with the maximum. He also sentenced Jones to two years probation.

Karas said he wanted to send a message of deterrence to athletes. "They have an elevated status," he was quoted as saying. "They entertain, they inspire, and perhaps most important, they serve as role models."

Courtroom observers said Jones cried after being sentenced. Outside the courthouse, she said she was extremely disappointed.

Ms. MARION JONES (Athlete): But as I stood in front of all of you for years in victory, I stand in front of you today, I stand for what is right. I respect the judge's orders, and I would truly hope that people learn from my mistakes.

GOLDMAN: U.S. Olympic Committee chief executive officer Jim Scherr said in a statement, the sentence shows how far-reaching and serious the consequences of cheating can be. But in fact, Marion Jones is not going to prison because she cheated; it's because she lied. In 2003, she was asked by federal agents whether she had taken banned performance enhancing drugs, and she said no. In her guilty plea last October, she admitted she had taken banned drugs. Subsequent documents filed in court showed she used drugs extensively before, during and after the 2000 Sydney Olympics, something she'd always publicly denied. She also lied to agents about whether she knew that former track star Tim Montgomery, the father of her oldest child, was involved in an illegal check-cashing scheme. Montgomery has been convicted for his involvement.

Adam Nelson is an Olympic shot putter who won the silver medal at the 2000 games. He says he'd like to believe today's sentence will act as a deterrent against doping by athletes.

Mr. ADAM NELSON (Athlete): But I think the message that this sends is that if you get caught, you shouldn't lie. The real message that we need to send to athletes is that if you get caught cheating, you're going to go to jail.

GOLDMAN: Harsh perhaps, but Nelson says doping by a small number of celebrity athletes has a huge ripple effect. All athletes in a sport, like track and field, become suspect even though the majority, he believes, are clean. And Nelson says the athletes who competed against Jones and finished behind her are directly affected.

Mr. NELSON: She has taken money away, not just from the athletes that's she's beat in prize money and - but she's also taken away from the opportunity of other athletes to make that living in the terms of taking away sponsorships, taking away endorsement deals, taking away appearances.

GOLDMAN: The International Olympic Committee is trying to figure out how to redistribute the three gold and two bronze medals Jones won in Sydney, which she has returned. There's also a dispute over whether or not her relay teammates from the 2000 games have to give their medals back as well.

Tom Goldman, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Tom Goldman is NPR's sports correspondent. His reports can be heard throughout NPR's news programming, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and on NPR.org.
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