Athletics: Hiring Francis was 'not a good decision', admits Montgomery

World 100m record holder arrives for Glasgow meeting and defends his connection with controversial coach
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The Independent Online

With his broad, child-like face and soft South Carolina drawl, Tim Montgomery does not present the characteristics habitually exhibited by US sprinters. There is none of the swagger or bulk or aggression of the man from whom he took the title of world's fastest man last September, Maurice Greene.

But don't think that we are talking about a teddy bear here. Oh no. Montgomery's voice may be soft, but almost everything he says has an edge to it, particularly when he gets on to the subject - which he does without too much prompting - of Charlie Francis.

The American sprinter's achievement of lowering the world 100 metres record to 9.78sec in Paris last season has been diminished by controversy following his subsequent decision to put his career in the hands of Francis, a man who has spoken up many times on the necessity to take drugs in order to compete at top level, and whose most famous athlete, Ben Johnson, was stripped of the 1988 Olympic title after testing positive.

It was a decision he took in conjunction with his girlfriend and training partner Marion Jones, the five-times Olympic champion, who is due to give birth to their first child any day now. But having left their previous coach, Trevor Graham, both were eventually persuaded by their sponsors, Nike, to publicly disassociate themselves from a man whom many in the sport believed was irredeemably compromised by his past.

Appearing yesterday in London to promote his 100m race against the Britons Dwain Chambers and Mark Lewis-Francis in Sunday's Norwich Union International in Glasgow, Montgomery accepted that he might have acted otherwise over Francis. "I think perhaps it was not a good decision," he said. But he pointedly refused to confirm that, if he could have had his time over again, he would have acted differently.

He also refused to be drawn on the topic of Britain's Olympic heptathlon champion Denise Lewis, who has been strongly criticised in some quarters for employing Dr Ekkart Arbeit, a leading figure in the discredited East German regime, as a technical adviser on throwing.

"I think everyone has got to make their own decision on these things," he said. "No one else can make it for you... if Denise does something wrong, the drug testers will find it. If they don't find it, then there is nothing to be said. Associating with someone doesn't mean that you did something wrong. If you go to a bachelor party, it don't mean that you did something bad.

"Charlie never wanted to be my coach. He never wanted to come to Zurich with me, or the World Championships. I went to him because I wanted him to show me things he had written about in a book. It is amazing when he shows you what you are doing wrong at the start. Ben Johnson had one of the best starts ever, and Charlie worked on my angles, where I placed my hands and legs on the blocks.

"He didn't want to come back fully into the sport, because his love for the sport was killed by the press. He told me and Marion that we had showed him how much you could do in the sport just by having talent. He sees that the sport has changed, and that we are a part of that.

"As a person, he still hurts, he still cries, he still bleeds. People change. If they didn't, we wouldn't have people reforming when they go to jail and coming out to become teachers or lawyers. You have to go through something to learn and be better."

Montgomery, who will reveal in a couple of weeks the name of his and Jones' new coach, feels he has gone through years of being slighted and disrespected by his peers before earning his current position. He is also not slow to point out that full respect has still not been given. Greene, whom he will meet for the first time this season in Paris a week today, is top of the hit list. "I respect Maurice on the track, but off the track it's different," Montgomery said. "There comes a time when you have to give an athlete credit. If Maurice doesn't want to give me credit, I'll go and take it for myself."

Chambers, too, has niggled at the world record holder for the way in which he has continued to talk about Greene and also spoken of his intention to run 9.65sec this season. "Nothing is impossible, but for Dwain to do that with the muscle mass he has would be incredibly fast," Montgomery said. "He's still mentioning Maurice's name. I'm here today and on Sunday to put Tim Montgomery back in his mind."

For his part, the 28-year-old from Gaffney, South Carolina believes he can better his world record this season. "Now I really, really believe that I can take it to a different level," he said. "I feel I have come of age."