RALEIGH, NC.--- Four years
ago, his reputation melting in the glare of doping rumors, C.J.
Hunter did something unusual, at least by his taciturn standard:
He called a news conference.
A series of failed drug tests seemed to show that Hunter, a
world-class shot putter, was a world-class drug cheat. Flanked
by his wife, track superstar Marion Jones, and an obscure Bay
Area nutritionist named Victor Conte Jr., Hunter tearfully insisted
that the test results must be mistakes.
His protests were met mostly with skepticism. He abruptly retired,
got divorced the next year, and tried to disappear.
Today, his ex-wife is in Greece, competing in the Olympic long
jump, trailed by allegations of her own steroid use. Conte, now
a close friend, is under federal indictment, accused of being
the mastermind of the Balco Laboratories drug scandal.
And Hunter -- a vital, if reluctant, witness against both --
has been pulled back into the frenzy of all that he tried to escape
In a rare interview, his first since the Balco indictments were
announced in February, Hunter told the Mercury News that the case
and his role in it were things he did not ask for, could not control
and has tried to avoid.
``The drug culture is the way it's been for so long in track
and field, and now all of a sudden it's a big deal,'' Hunter said.
``Everyone is acting like it's just started -- like, `Where did
this come from?' It's been going on for a long, long time.''
That is not his world anymore, Hunter said. Now 35, he is a
working-class man in Wake County, N.C. He is a husband again and
raising two children from his first of three marriages. He's restoring
an old Chevy with his 11-year-old son, Cory. He hopes his daughter
Ahny, 13, makes the cheerleading team. In that world, he is not
asked about the past or what he calls ``business.''
But ``business'' has come calling, finding him in a small North
Carolina town keeping his mouth shut and his head low, even as
it sported a baseball cap emblazoned with a logo for ZMA -- Conte's
legal nutritional supplement.
Cottrell Hunter III is not watching the Olympics on NBC. He's
watching ``Monster House'' on the Discovery Channel. He's done
with track and field.
``It's no different from horseshoes, except for the media coverage,''
the 6-foot-1, 330-pound former world champion said.
But track and field and the forces that have interest in it
are not done with him.
He must deal with inquiries from the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency and
federal investigators probing Balco. Hunter described this new
world as unwelcome and topsy-turvy. It's a place where people
who were once spouses have turned into legal enemies and where
his job is threatened by what he was forced to reveal.
Hunter's Raleigh-based lawyers, Angela and Rusty DeMent, would
barely let him answer questions about Jones, a sign of just how
complicated his role in the ongoing Balco investigation is.
In the interview, Hunter was often defensive. He would block
questions he didn't like by crossing his thick, muscled arms.
``That's all you are going to get,'' he would say, or ``End of
At other times, he was nonchalant about his former wife and
their life together. Hunter said that it was only last week that
he flipped through her recently published autobiography, ``Marion
Jones: Life in the Fast Lane.'' In it, Jones denies taking performance-enhancing
drugs and tells how Hunter's positive tests hurt their marriage.
Hunter didn't mention any of that. He just said that she spelled
his son's first name wrong and said he grew up in Pennsylvania.
He was raised on Long Island in New York.
A suspicious past
Whether Hunter likes it or not, his role in the Balco scandal
has again entangled him with the world's most popular track athlete.
Earlier this summer, he told Internal Revenue Service investigators,
anti-doping officials and a federal grand jury that Jones took
steroids before, during and after the Sydney Olympics. He also
alleged that he and Jones received packages of drugs from Conte
and from her former coach, Trevor Graham.
Jones' legal team declined to be interviewed this week, but
in the past it has denied Hunter's charges, calling him an embittered
ex-husband who has his own messy history as a drug cheat.
As he has since Sydney, Hunter says he wasn't a dirty athlete.
He also expresses a renewed desire to fight his positive tests
from four years ago. He said he has no intention of hurling a
16-pound steel ball again, describing the sport he left in 2000
as ``silly'' and ``so dumb.''
But he envisions other, more personal triumphs.
He talked about standing in front of a bank of television cameras
once more, reading a list of everyone who has accused him of drug
use -- and then showing them all his middle finger.
As a first step in fighting the tests in 2000 that showed the
steroid nandrolone, the DeMents want to get the results and determine
if they can be analyzed further.
``If I wanted to do it and I had all this access to undetectable
drugs, I would take them,'' Hunter said. ``I'm not going to take
the one drug you can't get rid of.''
His quest for credibility goes beyond personal rehabilitation
or retribution. It is paramount to any case prosecutors and anti-doping
agents hope to make from his testimony. And make no mistake: His
credibility is in question, and not just by Jones' team. His sport's
final glimpse of him was as he walked away in the haze of a drug
scandal. That's the image that sticks.
``How does any of that affect my eyes, my memory?'' Hunter said.
``What does one have to do with another? If I took the drugs,
that would make me credible? Then I would know what I was talking
Of the four positive tests for nandrolone, Hunter has long said
they were inadvertently caused by a contaminated iron supplement
he bought in Rome.
Dr. Gary Wadler, a leading authority on doping, said nutritional-supplement
contamination is a common defense by athletes. Although he agreed
that contamination is possible, he said it seemed improbable that
Hunter's failed drug tests -- with urine tests showing 1,000 times
the legal limit of nandrolone -- were mistakes.
``You would have to take handfuls and handfuls and handfuls
of these things,'' Wadler said. ``In a practical sense, it would
be a stretch to conclude that was from inadvertent consumption
of supplements that were contaminated.''
Jones' team hasn't been so diplomatic, branding Hunter a drug-taking
liar with an ax to grind. Reminded of that, Hunter leaned forward
and animatedly described a scenario where he would take a polygraph
test on live television.
Asked if he was bitter about his divorce, he sat back and smirked.
``I'm just crushed,'' he said.
The impact at home
Earlier this month, engulfed by negative publicity from Hunter's
testimony about helping Jones take steroids, North Carolina State
transferred him from his job of four years as an assistant strength
coach of the football team. A prepared statement released by the
school at the time said Hunter's contract, which expires next
year, would be honored ``unless the university receives confirmation
that these allegations are true.''
Athletic Director Lee Fowler did not return messages seeking
comment on the reasons Hunter was moved.
Hunter is in limbo, but he said he understands the school's
position. The only thing he will balk at, he said, is a job that
requires him to wear a tie.
Still, Hunter clearly misses his lost kingdom of bench presses
Wearing a T-shirt with a ``Pack Power'' logo, Hunter talked
about his loving care of the weight room and his job as part of
Now strangers ask him questions about a doping scandal. He is
angry about the media showing up to tape television footage at
his son's Pop Warner football games and ambushing him at work.
``How about they take all the money that they are using to do
this and take all the families that have someone who died in Iraq
and why don't we split it among them,'' he said. ``Get that situation
cleaned up and get those people home. Handle homeless people and
things that are important, and then we will talk about why people
`I never cared that much'
At his country home near Raleigh, less than an hour from where
Jones lives with her new family, Hunter waits to see how his role
in the scandal will play out.
He sometimes wishes he could disappear again. He would be all
right, he said, as long as he could be with his kids, his new
wife and his cable TV.
Four years ago, he was an elite track and field star, married
to one of the most glamorous athletes on the planet. Four years
ago, he unleashed a gargantuan throw of 71 feet, 9 inches, a distance
that would have won Olympic gold last week in Athens.
``I never cared that much,'' he said. ``I did it because I was
good at it. I just want to go home and hang out and watch TV.
I want to watch my son play football and watch my daughter grow
up and do cheerleading.
``I want to be left alone.''
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