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Sources say Marion Jones failed drug test at Indianapolis meet

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Five-time Olympic medalist Marion Jones, once the charming, dominating face of track and field around the world, failed an initial drug test at the U.S. championships in June, people familiar with the results told The Associated Press on Friday.

Jones' ``A'' sample tested positive June 23 for the banned performance enhancer EPO at the event in Indianapolis, one source told the AP on condition of anonymity because the official results are not yet public.

The 30-year-old sprinter made a triumphant return to the sport's center stage in Indianapolis, with a victory in the 100 meters, her 14th U.S. title but first since 2002.

If a second, or ``B'' sample, also tests positive, one of the biggest stars of the Sydney Olympics would face a minimum two-year ban from competition.

Erythropoietin, also known as EPO, is a banned performance-enhancer that can boost endurance. The result first was reported Friday on the Web site of The Washington Post, which also cited sources it did not identify.

Jones, a five-time world champion, withdrew from the Weltklasse Golden League meet on Friday, citing ``personal reasons.'' Meet director Hans Jeorg Wirz said Jones received a morning telephone call from the United States that prompted her decision. No further details were given.

Her coach, Steve Riddick, told the AP in a telephone conversation that it was the first he had heard of the positive test.

If Jones' second sample tests positive, she would be the third high-profile U.S. athlete to test positive for doping this year. U.S. cyclist Floyd Landis tested positive for elevated testosterone during the Tour de France; sprinter Justin Gatlin, a three-time Olympic medalist who shares the world record in the 100 meters, tested positive for a steroid in April. Landis and Gatlin, like Jones, have denied ever using performance-enhancing drugs.

Jones' mix of talent and personality helped her dominate the sport in the late 1990s after a standout career in track and basketball at North Carolina.

At the 2000 Sydney Games, she became the first woman to win five Olympic medals in track and field. Jones, who trained with Trevor Graham at the time, won gold in the 100 meters, 200 meters and 1,600-meter relay and bronze in the long jump and 400-meter relay.

Since then, however, Jones, one of several athletes who testified to the federal grand jury investigating BALCO in 2003, has been dogged by doping suspicions.

Her ex-husband C.J. Hunter and Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative founder Victor Conte both have said she had used banned substances, allegations she vehemently denied.

Former coach Graham now is under investigation by track and field's ruling body and the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency. He is the coach of Olympic and world 100-meter champion Gatlin, who faces a lifetime ban for his failed drug test. Several other athletes coached by Graham have been suspended for doping.

At the 2004 Athens Olympics, Graham confirmed he was the one who sent a vial of the designer steroid THG, also know as ``the clear,'' to the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, telling the agency that this was the drug of choice by some elite athletes at the time. BALCO later was confirmed as the source of THG.

In December 2005, the father of her son, sprinter Tim Montgomery, retired from the sport after he was banned for two years for doping violations. He never tested positive but was punished based on information gathered in the BALCO probe. Earlier this year, he and Riddick were indicted on bank fraud and money laundering charges. Both have pleaded not guilty.

Jones was making a comeback this season after years of struggle.

After taking 2003 off for the birth of her son, she struggled but made the U.S. 2004 Olympic team in the long jump. Jones, who also competed in the 4x100 relay, failed to medal at the games.

In Indianapolis, she was greeted with cheers from the crowd after her 100-meter triumph.

``I have a passion for the sport,'' she said at the time. ``I have a passion to compete, and nobody's going to take that away from me.''

Jones withdrew from the 200 meters at the national championships just before the preliminaries, settling for the 100-meter title she won the previous night. She warmed up but her agent, Charles Wells, said she decided her legs were too tired after running three rounds of the 100.

Wells did not return a telephone message Friday.

Jones raced five times in Europe this season, winning the 100 meters in Paris and Lausanne.

Her 10.91-second clocking at the Golden Gala meet in Rome on July 14, where she finished second to Sherone Simpson of Jamaica, was the third-fastest time in the world this year and Jones' best mark in four years. Her career best of 10.65 seconds in the 100 was in 1998.

Jones had been set to race in Zurich for the first time in two years after having been snubbed by the meet for her connection to the BALCO steroid scandal.
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