Three-time Olympic champion Marion Jones has pleaded guilty to lying to US government investigators when she denied using performance-enhancing drugs, and subsequently announced her retirement from athletics.
She also pleaded guilty to a second count of lying to investigators about her association with a check-fraud conspiracy.
Prosecutors have suggested to Jones that she faces a maximum prison term of six months, although the judge has the discretion to change that. The maximum sentence on each count is five years and a US$250,000 fine.
Outside the courthouse, Jones broke down in tears on Friday as she apologized for her actions, saying she fully understands she has disappointed her friends, family and supporters.
"It's with a great amount of shame that I stand before you and tell you that I have betrayed your trust," Jones said, pausing frequently to regain her composure while her mother stood behind her, a supportive hand on her daughter's shoulder.
"I have been dishonest, and you have the right to be angry with me. I have let [my family] down. I have let my country down, and I have let myself down," she said. "I recognize that by saying I'm deeply sorry, it might not be enough and sufficient to address the pain and hurt that I've caused you."
"Therefore, I want to ask for your forgiveness for my actions, and I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive me," Jones said.
Jones and her mother embraced afterward, the elder Jones telling her daughter, "Good job." The two then climbed into a black limousine with one of Jones' attorneys and drove away without taking questions.
In court, Jones, seated at the defense table and speaking in a clear voice through a microphone, said she lied to a federal investigator in November 2003 when he asked if she had used performance-enhancing drugs.
"I answered that I had not. This was a lie, your honor," she said.
Jones said she took steroids from September 2000 to July 2001 and said she was told by her then-coach Trevor Graham that she was taking flaxseed oil when it was actually "the clear" -- a designer steroid.
"I consumed this substance several times before the Sydney Olympics and continued using it after," Jones told the judge. "By November 2003, I realized he was giving me performance-enhancing drugs."
She said she "felt different, trained more intensely" and experienced "faster recovery and better times" while using the substance.
"He told me to put it under my tongue for a few seconds and swallow it," she said. "He told me not to tell anyone."
Jones was released on her own recognizance and was due back in court on Jan. 11 for sentencing.
In the check-fraud scheme, Jones admitted lying about her knowledge of the involvement of Tim Montgomery, the former sprint world record holder and the father of her son Monty, in a scheme to cash millions of dollars worth of stolen or forged checks. Montgomery; Jones' longtime agent Charles Wells; and a former coach, Olympian Steve Riddick, have all been convicted in the scam.
The International Olympic Committee had already opened an investigation into doping allegations against Jones in December 2004, and said on Friday it will step up its probe and move quickly to strip her of her medals.
These would include the five medals she won at the 2000 Olympics, where she won gold in the 100m, 200m and 4x400m relay and bronze in the long jump and 100m relay.
"I promise that these events will be used to make the lives of many people improve," Jones said, "that by making the wrong choices and bad decisions can be disastrous."
"The fact that she was using the performance-enhancing drugs is not a surprise. People suspected strongly or knew, but couldn't prove the use," said Dick Pound, chairman of the World Anti-Doping Agency. "When something seems too good to be true, it probably is."
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