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Six-month jail sentence for Jones

11 January 08 19:10 GMT

American Olympian Marion Jones has been sentenced to six months in prison for lying about steroid use and involvement in a drugs fraud case.

The former sprinter pleaded guilty last October and was sentenced on Friday.

Mother-of-two Jones, 32, had asked US District Judge Kenneth Karas to be "as merciful as a human being can be".

But the judge imposed the maximum under her plea deal "because of the need for general deterrence and the need to promote respect for the law".

Judge Karas said he believed a message needed to be sent to athletes who have abused drugs and as a result, have overlooked the values of "hard work, dedication, teamwork and sportsmanship".

"Athletes in society have an elevated status, they entertain, they inspire, and perhaps, most important, they serve as role models."

He added: "Nobody is above the legal obligation to tell the truth."

Afterwards Jones said outside court: "I respect the judge's order, and I truly hope that people will learn from my mistakes."

Lawyers for the defence had asked the judge to give the former sprinter probation or house arrest.

Having already apologised, retired and given up her five Olympic medals, Jones has been punished enough, they argued.

Jones sentencing included two years' probation and supervised release, during which she will be required to perform 800 hours of community service.

She has been ordered to surrender on 11 March to begin her jail term.

'Deeply sorry'

A tearful Jones asked the judge to consider her commitment to her two children, including an infant son she is still nursing.

"Your honour, I absolutely realise the gravity of these offences and I am deeply sorry," she said.

Lawyers for the prosecution had suggested any sentence between probation and six months would be fair.

Once arguably the most famous female athlete in the world, Jones won gold in the 100m, 200m and 4x400m relay as well as bronzes in the long jump and 4x100m relay, at the Sydney Olympics in 2000.

While her charisma and big smile won her a global fan base, her success on the track coupled with photogenic looks won her lucrative endorsements.

But she suffered a spectacular fall from glory last October, admitting lying to a federal investigator in November 2003 when she denied using performance-enhancing drugs.

She admitted using a steroid between September 2000 and July 2001.

Tearful apology

Jones also pleaded guilty to lying to federal investigators in 2003 about a separate cheque fraud case involving her former boyfriend, sprinter Tim Montgomery, the father of her son, Monty.

Montgomery and several others have been convicted in that scam.

Judge Karas had sought advice as to whether he could go beyond the six-month maximum sentence suggested in the plea deal.

"The offences here are serious. They each involve lies made three years apart," he said on Friday, adding that Jones had made "not a one-off mistake... but a repetition in an attempt to break the law".

He said he did not believe a statement by Jones in October when she said she did not realise she was taking steroids until after the 2000 Olympic Games.

"That is very difficult to believe, that a top-notch athlete... would not be keenly aware of what he or she put in her body," the judge said.

Jones, who returned her medals even before the International Olympic Committee ordered her to do so, has since had her name expunged from the record books.

Hers was one of a number of high-profile doping cases involving top American athletes that have prompted the US Olympic Committee to team up with Major League Baseball and the National Football League with a new initiative aimed at combating drug use in US sport.

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