A part of us wanted to believe Marion Jones, all the way back to that downtown Sydney news conference at the 2000 Olympics, when her husband, C.J. Hunter, was getting thrown out of the Games for being one of the original bodies by BALCO.
She was so smart, so elegant, so charming, it damaged your spirit to believe that her grace, her greatness, might have been a chemical creation. She was an American goddess, seducing with the sweetest of smiles. You always wanted to believe Jones, even when so many men in her life -- Hunter, Victor Conte and banned sprinter Tim Montgomery -- turned out to be among the biggest drug cheats of a generation.
There she was that day in Sydney, sitting on-stage, defending her guilt-by-association with, of all people, Conte at her side. Only then, no one knew Conte was the mastermind of the most infamous sporting scandal of this century, the BALCO founder who, along with cancelled checks and schedules detailing her doping, would rat out Jones to the world.
Once and for all now, Jones has been exposed, her "A" sample testing positive for EPO at the U.S. Championships in Indianapolis. She hadn't won anything since 2002, but she exploded out of nowhere to win the 100 meters. As it looks right now, Jones knew she couldn't be a champion at 30 without cheating.
So she did, again, and she seems destined to leave the sport with all the indignity her sullied career deserves.
If her "B" sample comes back positive, she'll be subject to a two-year ban -- which means she'll probably be done as a world-class sprinter. She'll go down as one of the great frauds in U.S. sports history.
If nothing else, we'll never have to listen to her get so indignant over the charges of cheating, never have to hear her claim her innocence again. She lied and lied and lied and gets exposed.
Marion Jones goes away now, and she goes away for good. She deserves whatever embarrassment comes her way now, because she did as much damage to her sport as any other athlete in history. She's the reason the Dick Pounds of the world hate the hypocrisy of American sport, forever thrusting the cloud of doubt on foreigners when the good old U.S.A. can cheat with the best of them.
The rest of the world will rejoice over news of Jones' positive test, if only because it throws it back in the face of a USA Track & Field organization that has never dealt with the rule-breaking within its program.
Back in 2000, Jones made the covers of Time and Newsweek without winning an Olympic medal. USA Track & Field's executive director, Craig Masback, had gone into the Games professing the boldest vision ever considered for a U.S. track star, saying Jones "has the chance to be the first female international athlete to transcend sports. In my mind, only three people have done that: Pele, Muhammad Ali and Michael Jordan."
Masback was dreaming that a track and field athlete -- a once-every-four-years phenomenon -- could climb onto the Mount Rushmore of sport with those three athletes. She never did transcend sport. She never gave herself the chance.
Jones won three gold medals and two bronzes in Sydney, but she already was tainted on the medal stand there. She was standing with a druggie husband, with Conte.
Looking back, you knew it had to be too good to be true. We wanted to believe Marion Jones, and we all probably cut her too much slack for too long.
Finally, one of those tests came back wrong on her, the stories are saying. Finally, they caught this American princess. No more excuses out of Jones, no more lies. She goes away now, one more sporting myth obliterated for all time.
Adrian Wojnarowski is a sports columnist for The Record (N.J.) and a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPNWoj10@aol.com. His national best-seller, "The Miracle of St. Anthony: A Season with Coach Bob Hurley and Basketball's Most Improbable Dynasty," is available in paperback at this link.