1996 – Svetlana Masterkova:
A strong 800-meter runner, Masterkova won a national championship in the former Soviet Union in 1991. After taking a maternity break in 1994-95, she came back stronger than ever and added the 1500 meters to her repertoire. She then used an aggressive strategy to earn a pair of Olympic gold medals, though she wasn’t favored in either race. Masterkova went to the front immediately in the 800 final and stayed there, winning in 1:57.73. She then employed the same strategy to win the 1500 (4:00.83). Masterkova also decided to try the mile run that year and not only won her initial attempt, in Zurich, but set a new world record of 4:12.56, breaking Paula Ivan’s previous mark of 4:15.61. She also set a world 1000-meter record of 2:28.98, in Brussels. As of 2012 both marks still stand.
1997 and 1998 – Marion Jones:
Today, Jones’ accomplishments are tarnished by her later admission of steroid use (see below). Whether she was using performance enhancing drugs in 1997 or 1998 isn’t known, although there’s no doubt that she had talent. She was nearly selected for the 1992 U.S. Olympic 4 x 100-meter relay team while still in high school, when she was presumably clean.
By 1997 Jones, then 21, was the world’s dominant short sprinter and was moving up the world long jump ranks as well. She won the 1997 World Championship 100-meter final in 10.83 seconds and earned another gold as part of the victorious U.S. 4 x 100 relay team. Jones also placed 10th in the long jump.
In 1998 Jones won the IAAF World Cup in the 100 (10.65) and 200 (21.62) and was second in the long jump with a leap of 7.00 meters (22 feet, 11¾ inches). She won the 100 at the Grand Prix series final, in 10.83, as well as the long jump in 7.13/23-4¾. Jones also shared the $1 million jackpot for winning all six Golden League 100-meter races, splitting the prize with Hicham El Guerrouj and Haile Gebreselassie.
1999 – Gabriela Szabo:
Szabo began the year with an outstanding indoor campaign during which she set the indoor 5000-meter world record
of 14:47.35, which stood for five years. She also collected two gold medals at the World Indoor Championships, winning the 3000 in 8:36.42 and the 1500 in 4:03.23. Outdoors, the Romanian won the 3000 meters at the Grand Prix series final, in 8:43.52, and won the World Championship 5000 meters in 14:41.82
2000 – Marion Jones (annulled):
Jones announced a goal of winning five gold medals at the 2000 Olympics. She didn’t achieve her objective, but her performance certainly seemed memorable, as she finished first in the 100 and 200 and third in the long jump. Additionally, she ran on the first-place American 4 x 400-meter relay team, and the third-place 4 x 100 squad. Even while accomplishing these feats, however, questions were being raised because her then-husband, C.J. Hunter – a shot-putter who’d finished seventh at the 1996 Olympics – tested positive for steroids prior to the Sydney games. As the decade progressed, Jones’ coach, Trevor Graham, was implicated in the Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative (Balco) scandal, as was runner Tim Montgomery, with whom Jones had a child in 2003, after her divorce from Hunter. Hunter later testified that he saw Jones inject herself with drugs in the Sydney Olympic Village. Jones eventually admitted using steroids before the 2000 Olympics. She was stripped of her medals, and her 2000 Athlete of the Year award was annulled.
Read more about Olympic doping controversies.