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Marion Jones shrinks a little more

November 25, 2008 | 10:07 am

Tim Montgomery, left, is shown in a 2002 file photo with Marion Jones.

The relationship always seemed incongruous. She was tall, attractive, famous, outgoing, a star in two sports. He was short, shy, given to mumbling in interviews, and, until the end of his career, just another very good athlete on the international track circuit.

When they made the deal public, with Marion Jones and Tim Montgomery sharing a kiss and hug after he set a world record in the 100 meters on Sept. 14, 2002 (nine months before Jones gave birth to Tim Montgomery Jr.), you had to wonder what Jones saw in the man known as Tiny Tim and what they could possibly have talked about.

Six years later, after both have spent time in prison, and had their track and field achievements either officially erased or rendered meaningless, the differences between them are even more apparent.

None is bigger than this: Montgomery has shown the courage to tell the truth, while Jones plainly continues to dissemble about her use of performance-enhancing drugs.

That –- not Montgomery’s revelation that he doped before running in the preliminaries of an eventual gold-medal-winning sprint relay at the 2000 Olympics –- is the most dramatic part of the jailhouse interview with Bryant Gumbel that airs tonight night on HBO Real Sport.

Montgomery at first professes that doping guru Victor Conte never told him the substances Conte gave him were steroids. Yet the runner confesses less than a minute later, as Gumbel does a fine job of leading Montgomery to full disclosure.

"I knew," Montgomery said. "I’m not going to lie. I knew."

Gumbel knew where to go with that statement: air a few seconds of Jones’ recent interview with Oprah Winfrey, during which Jones –- who also had a working relationship with Conte –- once again refused to admit she knew was getting performance-enhancing drugs from the Balco boss.

Oprah asks Jones, "What did you think you were taking?"

"I don’t remember what [Conte] told me at this moment he was giving me ... flaxseed oil, that’s what it was," Jones answers.

That wasn’t the only way in which Montgomery now appears to be a bigger person than his ex-companion. Out of respect for their child, Montgomery declined to comment on what Jones had told Oprah.

Montgomery, 33, did a lot more wrong than just take steroids. He got 46 months in prison for his role in a bank fraud scheme about which Jones professed ignorance, a lie federal investigators used to pressure her into admitting to some of her past doping. When that sentence ends, he will begin serving five more years for selling heroin.

Montgomery did not try to cover anything up during the HBO interview. He admitted to being "very lazy" and using doping as a shortcut because "I wanted my name in the papers and my face on TV. He revealed having broken NCAA rules by signing a $98,000 sponsorship deal while still running for Norfolk State. It was evidence, Montgomery said, that "I had a criminal mind then."

Unlike Jones, who tried to explain away her mistakes by telling Oprah, "I didn’t love myself enough," Montgomery did not hide the motivation for his behavior or rationalize its consequences.

Selling heroin?  He did it "for the money."

Could he handle nine years in prison: "I made the bed, and I’m going to lie in it."

The question of who gave whom fleas when Montgomery lay down with Jones once seemed easy to answer.

Truth be told, it is Jones who refuses to stop dogging it when it comes to telling the truth.

-- Phillip Hersh

Photo: Tim Montgomery, left, in a 2002 photo with Marion Jones during a news conference in Madrid.  Credit: Paul White / Associated Press