Tim Montgomery and Marion Jones, briefly celebrated as athletics' golden couple, were contemplating a tarnished future yesterday as her hopes of competing in next month's Olympics faded, and his died.
Competing at the US Olympic trials in Sacramento, the world's fastest man failed to earn one of the three 100 metres qualifying places for Athens, finishing seventh, just 24 hours after his partner had seen her chance of defending the Olympic 100m title vanish with a fifth-place finish in her final.
Given the couple's increasingly awkward involvement in the doping scandal emerging from the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative investigation, which could leave Montgomery facing a life ban, there was a grim predictability about their calamitous showing in California.
Jones has not been charged with any doping offence, but remains under scrutiny by the US Anti-Doping Agency. For the 28-year-old from Raleigh, North Carolina, life could hardly be more different than it was on the eve of the last Olympics, where she sought to take gold in both sprints, both relays and the long jump. Today, for "drive for five", read "strive to stay alive".
Only five months ago, when the owner of the Balco lab, Victor Conte, had already been indicted on 42 counts of distributing illegal performance-enhancing drugs, the couple - who became an item in 2002 - were posing happily for photographers, talking about their aspirations for Athens and proudly describing the progress of their son, Tim Jnr, known as "Monty", who is now just over a year old. Plans were already being laid for Monty's grandparents to travel out to Athens to take charge while mum and dad were chasing their gold medals.
Now, however, the case is altered. And with Conte's trial being planned for the autumn, there remains the possibility that yet more damaging information will make its way into the public domain. Jones's former husband, CJ Hunter, banned for doping offences shortly before the two also appeared before the federal authorities last week, and one of the questions is likely to have concerned the revelation earlier this year that he had signed a cheque for $7,500 (£4,000) to Balco which had been drawn from Jones's account.
Jones, however, goes out of her way to distance herself from her former husband in her autobiography Marion Jones: Life In The Fast Lane, which was published in the United States on Thursday. "I could see how one test, even two tests, could have gone wrong - but four separate tests had come back positive," she writes of Hunter. "And the levels had been so incredibly high. How could he not have known something?"
Montgomery's performance at the trials was way below his best as he finished a distant seventh in a race won by defending Olympic champion, Maurice Greene, in 9.91sec, with Justin Gatlin and Shawn Crawford taking the two other places in 9.92 and 9.93 respectively. The result will have come as a huge relief to USA Track and Field, which will now be able to avoid the embarrassing scenario of having to select an athlete for the Olympics who may be liable to retrospective disqualification.
Having been charged with doping offences by Usada following evidence obtained by the federal investigation into Balco, Montgomery, who admitted to the Federal Grand Jury that he had taken a variety of banned substances, has chosen to appeal directly to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne, whose decision is binding. His case, however, is unlikely to be heard before the Games begin on 13 August.
Jones and Montgomery - whose time of 10.13sec was 0.35sec slower than the 2002 world record he set in Paris - left the track amid a horde of reporters. "This is the reason I didn't win: I've got y'all on my back. I have to deal with y'all every day," said Montgomery, who is one of four sprinters facing doping charges who entered the trials. Michelle Collins, a 400m runner, withdrew on Sunday with a hamstring injury and Chryste Gaines failed to qualify in the 100m. Alvin Harrison remains in the running in the 400m.
Jones reacted with similar defensiveness to her partner after failing in Saturday's 100m final, telling journalists: "When I talk, you guys have something negative to say. When I don't talk, you have something negative to say. I'd rather not talk. I'd rather spend time with my son."
She still has two opportunities to make the Olympic team, starting with the long jump, which she was due to seek qualification in last night, and the 200m. In ordinary circumstances, although she will face strong opposition in the longer sprint, she would be a virtual certainty to win the long jump, given that she is the sixth-ranked athlete in the world this season and has jumped more than 30cm further than her nearest US rival.
But Jones finds herself in extraordinary circumstances, and the strain is telling. While Montgomery has never appeared particularly keen to interact with reporters, she has shown media savvy ever since she emerged to prominence by winning the world 100m title in 1997, a partial legacy of the fact that she studied journalism at the University of North Carolina.
Even in the wake of Hunter's ban just before Sydney Games, she still managed to offer fresh-faced support, conspicuously standing by her man before going on to earn three of her targeted five Olympic golds. Last year the resilience showed itself again as the couple were widely criticised for engaging the services of Charlie Francis, the notorious doping enthusiast who coached Ben Johnson to the Olympic 100m gold he won and then had stripped from him in 1988. Pressure from their sponsors, Nike, played a part in their decision to drop Francis, although even five months ago, Jones said defiantly she had not regretted consulting Francis.
But when both were called to give evidence to the Federal Grand Jury hearing their mutual sky was already darkening. And now, it seems, the storm is breaking.
RECORDS AND TITLES HOW THEY RULED THE WORLD
Already a superstar of her sport, Marion Jones dominated the Sydney Olympics by winning three golds including the two individual sprint titles. She also won two bronzes. Her dominance continues into 2002 when she is unbeaten.
Tim Montgomery has been at the top for less time, winning gold in Sydney, but only in the 4x100m relay.
He wins an individual silver in the 100m at the 2001 world championships, then in September 2002 shatters the 100m world record, setting a new time of 9.78sec.Reuse content