Jones doping confession a blow for Olympics

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ATHENS, Oct 10 (Reuters) Triple Olympic champion Marion Jones's doping confession has dealt a major blow to the Olympic Games as the IOC has been struggling to win back dwindling youth audiences.

Jones gave back her five medals from the 2000 Sydney Games after admitting to drugs use, causing one of the biggest Olympics-related doping scandals since Ben Johnson was stripped of his gold from Seoul in 1988.

A senior International Olympic Committee (IOC) member told Reuters the Jones affair may have boosted the IOC's position of zero tolerance on drugs but it was also damaging to the Olympic movement.

''It is positive in the sense that famous or not famous athletes will see that there is no distinction among cheats. A cheat is a cheat,'' the member said. ''But this cannot have positive repercussions for the IOC or the United States Olympic Committee.'' A gradual slide in the Olympics' viewership among younger people in favour of more exciting sports such as those included in the X-Games have rung alarm bells in Lausanne.

The IOC, saying the average Olympic viewers are getting older, announced in July it would stage summer and winter editions of Youth Olympics, a precursor to the Games, in a bid to grab younger audiences sooner.

OLYMPIC FACELIFT The IOC is also considering bringing in sports such as skateboarding, that will make the Olympics more attractive and relevant to changing times.

Given that no sports were ever taken off the programme from the 1930s to 2005 when baseball and softball failed to make the cut, the need to provide the Olympic programme with a facelift is acute.

Jones, whose tally from Sydney included three golds, told a US court on Friday her victories at those Games were essentially powered by performance-enhancing drugs given to her by her then coach Trevor Graham.

She has relinquished her five medals and the IOC will now decide who to award them to.

But even more damaging than changing the record books after seven years is the fact that the IOC will have to consider handing over Jones' 100 metres gold medal to Greek sprinter Katerina Thanou, who spectacularly withdrew from the Athens 2004 Games following missed drugs tests and then had to serve out a two-year ban for doping rule violations.

DIFFICULT DECISION While Thanou has never tested positive and only admitted to missing the doping tests, the international resonance of her withdrawal from the Athens Olympics together with fellow sprinter Costas Kenteris, makes it a difficult decision for the IOC to give her top honours for Sydney.

''That's one of the disagreeable aspects,'' World Anti-Doping Agency Chief Dick Pound, who is also an IOC member, told Reuters in an interview last week. ''That will be hard to swallow''.

More importantly it will throw the Olympic movement into the spotlight for yet another doping case as normal procedures are that medal standings are adjusted and the silver medallist promoted to gold.

Many though, even within the IOC, do not want Thanou to get it.

''I'd like to think that Katerina Thanou would not be awarded the gold medal,'' Australian Olympic Committee chief and IOC member John Coates said earlier this week.

REUTERS BJR RK1901

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