Jones issue leaves female sprinters defending track

Updated: August 20, 2006, 8:37 PM ET
Associated Press

BIRMINGHAM, England -- America's top female sprinters defended track and field Sunday, saying it was disappointing to hear Marion Jones had failed a doping test.

Allyson Felix, the world 200-meter champion and silver medalist at the Athens Olympics in 2004, said she was dismayed when she found out Jones failed an initial doping test at the U.S. championships in June.

"There are a lot of young girls who are coming up in athletics, like I was, and a lot of them look up to Marion, so I do hope it's not true," Felix told the Associated Press after winning the 200 in 22.19 seconds at an international team meet in Birmingham on Sunday.

Jones' "A" sample from the championships in Indianapolis, where she won the 100, came back positive for the performance-enhancer EPO. If a second "B" test is positive, Jones could face a minimum two-year ban.

The news came three weeks after Olympic and world champion Justin Gatlin tested positive for testosterone or other steroids after a relay race in Kansas in April.

Both athletes have denied knowingly using banned substances.

"It's unfortunate and its a tough time for the sport to have two such big blows like that, it's disappointing," Felix said. "If anyone runs fast, there's always going to be speculation and it's frustrating that's the case.

"Most of us who are out there running are running hard, and running clean."

Doping suspicions have dogged Jones for years, but she has always vehemently denied using any performance-enhancing substances.

Gatlin, a self-proclaimed leader of a drug-free generation of track athletes, has seen his failed drugs test and association with coach Trevor Graham -- who is being investigated by the IAAF for his ties to banned athletes -- bring a drug-tainted image back to the sport.

USA Track and Field chief Craig Masback called the sport's current situation "grave."

World 100 champion Lauryn Williams is certain the sport will take a drubbing after a second high-profile doping case, but hopes her own performances might turn the spotlight away from them.

"All I can worry about is me and what I can do and try to do what I can to shine a light on American sports," Williams said. "I think some people will be disappointed but athletics will recover."

Felix believes anti-doping controls are working, with younger athletes having to realize that there are evils in the world of track and field.

"When I was younger, coming up I didn't realize [drugs were] there. I think I was being naive, but this is a wake-up call," Felix said. "I feel it's our responsibility to stay in a positive light to young athletes so I just keep racing feeling like that."

She's not afraid of any backlash or dip in American track and field as a result of what has happened with Jones and Gatlin.

"Is there a backlash? I would think so, though it's happened before, but with two of the biggest names of the sport involved it should be interesting to see how it plays out," she said.

Felix, who is friends with joint world-record holder Gatlin, said the sprinter is "doing OK. It's definitely a difficult situation and it's pretty tough for him right now."

Williams, who finished a disappointing fourth in the 100 at the meet in Birmingham, thinks the future is still bright for U.S. track and field despite all the problems.

"There's a lot of young athletes running very well and the next few years they're going to do some very good things -- it's not over for American athletics," she said.

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press