Saying she had been "slapped in the face" by recent tough times but was not an "old, shriveled-up mother," Marion Jones ended her U.S. Olympic track and field trials a day earlier than expected Saturday when she cited fatigue in withdrawing from the 200 meters.
Though Jones, 28, who gave birth to her first son last summer, is eligible for spots on the relay teams, she qualified for the U.S. team only in the long jump, failing to win positions in the 100 and 200.
She said she intended to go to the Athens Games and contend for a few gold medals before setting to the work of resurrecting her flagging career.
"Sometimes you get slapped in the face by a bad performance, by a bad year," she said. "This is probably my worst. It doesn't help that I'm at the top of my sport. . . . It's not like I can quietly have a bad year and nobody will write about me.
"I'm extremely optimistic that once this year is over . . . I can get to where I was in the past, if not better. [I want] to prove to myself and to the world that I still have it . . . that I'm not this old, shriveled-up mother who only runs an 11.14 [seconds, her time in the 100 final] and doesn't run the semifinals of the 200. That will be my goal."
Jones described the trials as "up and down" and admitted she felt "emotional stress" over the last few months, apparently in reference to the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency's three-month investigation of her -- which she again described as unfair. She has not been formally charged and has denied using any performance-aiding drugs.
Jones, however, said she didn't want to blame her difficulties on those distractions, and instead speculated that giving birth to her first son on June 28, 2003, took a heavy performance toll.
"I've been so successful from the time I was 14 years old in the sport, you get to the point where you think not much can come in the way of success," Jones said. "I think I underestimated childbirth. Do I have any regrets? Absolutely not. . . . But it has been a challenge. I was able to get my weight down easily. I feel fit, I look fit, but it just didn't happen out there this week."
Added Jones: "What are the other reasons for me not running fast? I don't know. We'd all love to know."
Jones also defended Tim Montgomery, the father of her 13-month-old son, Monty, who faces a possible lifetime ban for alleged drug violations. Montgomery admitted using a number of banned drugs to the grand jury in the federal case connected with the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative (BALCO), according to the San Francisco Chronicle, which obtained the testimony.
"I've discussed the whole situation with Tim and know what's going on," Jones said. "I think it's extremely unfair what has been leaked. That's all it is. . . . I know for a fact Tim Montgomery is a wonderful friend. He's a great father and he says he's never taken any performance-enhancing drugs. He worked hard for his world record, and I believe him."
She said her performances in the sprints, events she used to dominate, were the most distressing. She finished fifth in the 100 last weekend after running slow times throughout the qualifying heats. In the first round of the 200 on Friday, she finished last among five runners in her heat. She said the poor showing in the 100 affected her in the qualifying round of the long jump, when she failed to achieve the automatic qualifier and had to rely on the failings of other athletes to advance to the final.
"I was extremely disappointed after the 100 not to place in the top three," she said. "I'm not going to candy-coat anything; I never have and never will. We all come here knowing we have to place in the top three. Not doing that is extremely disappointing."
In the long jump final, Jones shook off her troubles, at least for one day, producing a jump that would have won the gold medal at the Sydney Olympics in 2000 and one that represented her best effort in six years. And she still has other chances to win medals in Athens. Every runner who makes the team is entered in the relay pool for the 4x100 and 4x400 relays, on which Jones competed when she won five medals in Sydney.
Jones also has an outside shot of getting a spot in the 100 field should Torri Edwards, who this week will learn whether she is banned from the Athens Games for a positive test for a stimulant, be forced to surrender her 100 spot. The fourth-place finisher, Gail Devers, might forego the position should she qualify in the 100 hurdles Sunday.
"If a lane opens up for whatever reason, you can be sure I will take advantage of it," Jones said. "I will prepare for the next couple of weeks in case that happens."