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Jones faces heat at Jamaica Invitational

KINGSTON, Jamaica -- No matter where she goes -- or doesn't go -- Marion Jones has to deal with questions about BALCO and steroids.

The five-time Olympic champion was asked about drugs Thursday at a news conference promoting the Jamaica International Invitational, where she'll test herself Friday in the 100 meters and long jump.

Earlier Thursday, word came from Belgium that meet organizers of the elite European Golden League series want to hold off negotiating a collective deal with Jones and boyfriend Tim Montgomery for appearances this summer until they know more about the BALCO inquiries.

"It's quite obvious that public opinion is on my side," Jones said. "My agent and my manager have had plenty of calls from meets all over the world wanting to see me compete, and the meet directors don't have any doubt that I'm a drug-free athlete and still want to invite me to their meets."

That's what Jones and her agent, Charley Wells, are saying, but the word from Europe is that some meet directors aren't happy about the investigation.

Wilfried Meert, meet organizer of the Van Damme Memorial in
Brussels, said, "You have all these investigations and inquiries.
Let us first wait and see what the results will be."

Wells said Jones and Montgomery never intended to run all
six Golden League meets because they will conflict with training
for the U.S. Olympic trials. Wells said he has Jones entered in
eight European meets, starting in June.

He called Meert's comments "baloney."

"All I can say is that due to the trials, we can't run in half
of the Golden League meets," Wells said.

If their popularity in Jamaica is any indication, Jones and
Montgomery are still in demand despite the accusations. Two weeks
ago, a news report said a $7,350 check from Jones' bank account was
written to BALCO founder Victor Conte. Jones said she had no
knowledge of the check.

And two newspapers, quoting unidentified sources, reported that
Conte told U.S. federal agents he gave steroids to Jones and
Montgomery. The athletes and Conte deny the claims.

Jones and Montgomery were among dozens of athletes -- including
baseball sluggers Barry Bonds and Jason Giambi -- who testified
before the grand jury that indicted Conte. No athletes were
indicted.

"I'm a proponent for a drug-free sport. I always will be and I
always have. I have no concerns about any of it, really," Jones
said.

Jones hopes to have strong performances in her events Friday. It
will be the first time she will do the long jump outdoors since
winning bronze at the 2000 Sydney Games.

She wants to start improving in that event before the U.S.
Olympic trials in Sacramento, Calif., this summer. The ultimate
goal is to make the team in her three events: 100, 200, long jump,
and also run in some relays in Athens.

"I'm putting a lot of time into my long jumping and hopefully
that will be reflected tomorrow evening," she said. "I'm going to
go out there and put on a show tomorrow and hopefully it will be
competitive."

There are plenty of other stars here. Montgomery and reigning
world champion Kim Collins will battle in the 100. Gail Devers will
go in the 110 hurdles and world champion Maria Mutola goes against
Americans Jearl Miles-Clark and Hazel Clark in the 800.

But there was a major disappointment when Jamaican junior 200
champion Usain Bolt withdrew from the meet because of a hamstring
injury.

Nonetheless, the crowd will have plenty to cheer with such top
stars competing against each other, in what could be a preview of
the Olympic Games.

"Through my history of my career I've had some great battles
with some Jamaican athletes and I've acquired a lot of Jamaican
fans," Devers said. "So to be asked to come to this meet that I
know is star-studded was my way of saying thank you to my fans.

"I am very honored and what I expect to get out of this is what
I expect to get out of everything in life: my best."