The fastest man in the prison yard

Tim Montgomery might still run fast, but in a federal prison in Alabama, he no longer runs free. Andy Lyons/Getty Images

MONTGOMERY, Ala. -- On a late November morning in 2003, the World's Fastest Man admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs. In front of a grand jury in the San Francisco federal courthouse, Tim Montgomery answered question after question from federal prosecutor Jeff Nedrow about drug connections -- connections to his glamorous live-in girlfriend at the time, track star Marion Jones; connections to his former coach, Trevor Graham; and connections to Bay Area Laboratory Cooperative (BALCO) founder Victor Conte. Though he waffled at times, Montgomery eventually spilled about them all.

But first, Nedrow, perhaps to prime the witness, recognized Montgomery's athletic prowess in front of the jurors, according to a copy of the grand jury transcript obtained by ESPN.com.

Q. Mr. Montgomery, you're currently the world record holder in the 100 meters; is that correct?

A. Yes, I am.

Q. When did you set the record?

A. 2002, September 14.

Q. And what was your time?

A. 9.78.

Q. Congratulations. That's a remarkable achievement.

It was remarkable, indeed. But the record is gone now, wiped from the books by track and field's governing body as a result of evidence culled in the BALCO case and Montgomery's admission under oath to his steroid use. Gone, too, is his freedom: the jock lifestyle, the money, the women. In fact, his life has gone to hell since that truth-telling session six years ago. He split with Jones, the mother of his 6-year-old son. He was convicted on separate felony criminal charges of check fraud and heroin distribution. And since last year, he's been locked up in a minimum-security federal prison camp at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama's capital city, where he's to stay until January 2016.

All that remains are memories and dreams.

As federal prisons go, Montgomery landed in a cushy joint, a place with the feel of a small college campus dotted with tall pine trees. But on a hotter-than-blazes morning this summer, the one-time 100-meter record holder, now also known as federal inmate No. 56836-083, welcomes the opportunity to escape into the air-conditioned office of an associate warden. Wearing the facility's standard inmate garb of dark olive green pants and shirt and black polished shoes, Montgomery -- still trim and fit at 34 years old -- sits down for a three-hour interview with ESPN.com.

He says he spends his mornings and afternoons on a landscape detail manicuring the Air Force base grounds, which include an 18-hole golf course. The bulk of his of free time is spent reading, and writing what he pitches as a tell-all book on his troubled life and the tawdry underbelly of his sport. And, of course, he works out, because -- who knows? -- one of the dreams that remains is an early release and a revival of his sprint career.

"I'm training, running," Montgomery says in a soft, friendly voice. "You can't believe the raw talent in jail that is behind bars. And they're ready to challenge you.

"In here, people say, 'Oh, we haven't really heard of you.' Then it's, 'You had the world record? OK, now we know.' That means something."

The World's Fastest Man has morphed into the fastest man in the prison yard. He is unbeaten there at every distance from 40 to 100 meters. He says he heads up a training group of about 15 inmates who work out regularly on the grass football and soccer fields.

"You're in here with testosterone levels higher than ever," he says. "They say, 'You might be fast, but not without that juice [steroids].' I say, 'OK, tell me how far you want to go.' I can say this: I haven't lost yet. I have an inner challenge. If you want to fight, I'm gonna fight back.

"In here, it is all about satisfaction and respect. Running has always been an outlet in my life. Since I've been here, my spirits have been low from time to time. I turn to the Bible a lot, and running. When you first get here, it is a respect thing. You know, 'Tim Montgomery is here.' Now, every time some new [inmate] gets off the bus, it's 'Can you run? You fast?'"

Where it went wrong

Banned from his sport in 2005 after the BALCO fallout, Montgomery didn't play nice and try to rehabilitate his public image. He didn't do "The Oprah Winfrey Show," for example, as Jones did when she was released from prison. Quite the opposite. Montgomery turned to the streets and a fast, hustler's life, amassing a rap sheet that makes using performance-enhancing drugs look like choirboy stuff.

First, in April 2007, he pleaded guilty to conspiracy in a multimillion-dollar bank fraud and money laundering scheme. He was accused of depositing three bogus checks totaling $775,000, for which he earned a comparatively modest $20,000. Then, as he awaited sentencing on those charges, he was arrested and later pleaded guilty to dealing more than 100 grams of heroin in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia.

As the conversation shifts to what brought him to this prison camp, Montgomery lowers his head.

"All hell broke loose after the [world] record," he says. "I wasn't able to really capitalize. The next year, 2003, I got subpoenaed to the grand jury for BALCO."

On the heels of his 9.78 time in the 100 meters, clocked in Paris seven years ago this week, Montgomery upped the price of his competitive appearances from $25,000 to $60,000 a race; and his Nike endorsement deal spiked to $575,000 a year, he says. But when his name became linked to the BALCO drug scandal and his suspension from track and field kicked in, he says the money flow dried up.

The demands of the lifestyle, though, didn't.

"I had been around bad people the whole time," he says. "When this all happened, I had to turn to them because I was trying to get some money. You have to understand: Drug dealers want to be athletes and athletes want to be cool. Those schemes were always around me, but I didn't participate because I was all right. Then everything was happening and I decided to turn this into something. I made money, yeah. That's just part of the game on the street. That's part of the business. A lot of money is made in drugs."

Now, after the fact, Montgomery wants people to believe his life of crime was somehow intertwined with a desire to run again. He hoped to be reinstated by the IAAF when the suspension expired in 2007. Montgomery says he assumed that as a condition for reinstatement, the international track federation and the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency would require repayment of the prize money he earned during the alleged doping period, because he'd heard other suspended runners had been required to return their winnings. He estimates he owed them $270,000.

"The simplest way to raise the money that came to mind was to sell drugs," he says. "I took the money I had from running and tried to double up. In the process, I lost … I have a lot of money to pay back. I made good money, but I spent good money. I took chances with the check [fraud] thing to make it. People say, 'How did you get yourself in trouble?' I wanted to run."

Sports officials, however, don't buy that rationale, claiming Montgomery was never told he would have to make a lump-sum repayment. They note that the international track federation has a history of working out installment plans with athletes who apply for reinstatement after a doping offense.

"Let me say this: It is pretty pathetic to use that as an excuse for why he got involved with check-kiting schemes and all this," says Travis Tygart, head of USADA. "In fact, the [international track and field federation] has been overly compassionate in past years to working out financial repayment arrangements with athletes, like they did with [British sprinter] Dwain Chambers, who similarly owed them a bunch of money. They worked out an agreement whereby a certain percentage of his revenues after he became eligible again would be paid directly to the [federation] as repayment for that money.

"So it is ridiculous to say that is what forced him to get into this."

Regardless, Montgomery remains tucked away in prison camp, paying a different kind of price. Instead of a $33,000-a-month check from Nike, he gets $44 a month for his landscaping gig. Gone is the $2.5 million chateau-style house he shared with Jones in Chapel Hill, N.C., where Michael Jordan and Dean Smith were among his neighbors. Instead, he sleeps in a single bed in a two-story dormitory-style barracks, with a shared bathroom on each wing.

He is in touch with Brian Lewis, a former sprint teammate at Norfolk State, who is about his only contact from his old circle of track and field friends. Letters occasionally arrive from track fans and churchgoers; but for the most part, they're written by faceless characters.

One track and field insider who isn't likely to pick up a pen and write to Montgomery, though, is Irvine, Calif.,-based attorney Emanuel Hudson, the longtime manager of sprinter Maurice Greene. It was Greene's world record that Montgomery broke in Paris. And as Hudson sees it, that performance-enhanced race took three years off Greene's reign as the World's Fastest Man -- the record wasn't broken again until 2005 by Asafa Powell -- and cost him and his client untold dollars in endorsement deals and appearance fees.

"I don't hate Tim Montgomery; but at the same time, it is very unfortunate he did some things that were very bad for our sport," Hudson says. "But I think that his station in life now is actually not based on what he did in our sport. He is in jail for basically being a crook. He was a crook. And his being a crook spilled over into our sport as well."

During the prison interview, Montgomery notes that Greene, his old rival, has also been linked to performance-enhancing drugs, though Greene has never been suspended or charged. Last year, a Mexican steroid trafficker reportedly told federal investigators that Greene was among 12 Olympic medalists that he supplied.

It isn't just Montgomery's former track and field friends who have cut him out of their lives, of course. Inmate No. 56836-083 volunteers that most of the women in his life have abandoned him, too.

"When you're out there doing your thing, you have a lot of women," says Montgomery, who has fathered four children by four different women. "I'm not seeing them. Just my parents, sister and brothers. Everybody else has left me. I guess they see eight years and 10 months [his prison sentence] and say, 'You can't do anything for me.'"

The matter of Marion

Among the missing women is Marion Jones, the golden girl of the 2000 Sydney Olympics and the mother of one of his children, Timothy Montgomery Jr. Seven years ago, the couple shared a well-chronicled kiss and a hug on the Paris track after Montgomery became the World's Fastest Man. He ran the record race in a pair of Nike spikes borrowed from Jones. They wear the same size.

She was tall, polished, well-educated and -- away from the limelight, at least -- said to be surprisingly shy and eager to avoid confrontation. Jones was one of the most successful female athletes in the world, earning between $70,000 and $80,000 a race on her way to becoming one of track's first female millionaires. Vogue magazine dubbed her "The American Hero" in a cover story.

He was short, less sophisticated, a hustler of sorts with an athletic pedigree that ranked a notch or two below hers.

"I remember cleaning out her car one day and I found a check for $45,000, and it was six months old," Montgomery says about Jones, who hit hard financial times, too, during her own meteoric fall from grace. "She had forgot all about it. She was making so much good money that she didn't take care of it. And she was very generous with it. If you're in her good graces, she'll give you the world."

The romance between the former training partners that blossomed in full on Montgomery's record day in Paris ended amid the turmoil and tension of the BALCO drug saga and a string of federal criminal investigations. Most of the legal problems were focused on Montgomery; but last year, Jones ended up in prison, too. She served a six-month sentence in the minimum-security section of a Fort Worth, Texas, federal facility for lying about her steroid use and her role in the check-fraud scam. She was released just over a year ago.

As Montgomery is speaking in the prison office, it's been several years since he has communicated with Jones, though he acknowledges that Jones is close to his mother, and that "Monty," their son, spent part of this summer with her in South Carolina.

"I wrote [Jones] a letter and said I was sorry for what I had done. She never wrote back," Montgomery says. "I have no connection with my son. It bothers me a lot. That's one of the reasons why I sat down and wrote [a book]. I came to jail and she did, too, but she makes it seem like mine is worse. No mother should keep a child away from his father unless he's hurting the child."

He says he brought Jones into the bank fraud scheme, and that's behind the current friction with her. Ultimately, the fraud charges forced Jones to acknowledge her own drug past. She had long vehemently denied rumors about her steroid use, and at various times retained attorneys to fight a potential ban and later file a defamation lawsuit against BALCO founder Victor Conte, who had gone public with details about providing her with performance-enhancing drugs.

"It's why she doesn't talk to me to this day," Montgomery says. "She got involved [in the check scheme] to help me … As I tried to protect her, she gave [federal investigators] a different story. She was gonna be a witness against me … [yet] they had her on cameras walking in with the check. They knew it wasn't my signature on the back of the check. She was saying she didn't know anything about it. Her story didn't add up.

"They told her, 'We got you on this. If you don't come out and tell about the steroid thing, we're gonna give you five years for perjury.' They knew she was lying about steroids. She said in the [BALCO] grand jury she didn't take [performance-enhancing drugs]. They had her trapped."

According to court documents, Jones endorsed and deposited a bogus $20,000 check into her bank account, and then lied to federal investigators about it during a 2006 bank fraud investigation. Earlier, in a Nov. 4, 2003, formal interview with lead BALCO investigator Jeff Novitzky in advance of her grand jury testimony, Jones lied when asked whether she had ever seen or used "the clear," as well as whether she had received it from Graham. The clear is a designer drug that is thought to produce growth of muscle tissue. At the time, it couldn't be detected in the drug tests administered to athletes. Its formal name is tetrahydrogestrinone and it's also known as THG.

Montgomery and Jones were living together when they were called to appear before the BALCO grand jury in San Francisco in 2003. Montgomery testified first, on the morning of Nov. 6; Jones testified a week later. Their son was almost five months old at the time.

According to Montgomery, they spoke in advance about how they might address inquiries related to performance-enhancing drugs.

"We talked about it, of course," he says. "She went with what her lawyers told her to say. I said, 'Why am I gonna lie about what I did? Victor Conte distributed something not on the banned list. If it's not on the banned list, why am I in trouble?' I didn't know the grand jury [testimony] was gonna be leaked, either … Believe me, she don't live in reality. It's like if you take the name off the Dasani [water] bottle -- 'I don't want you ever to tell me what you're giving me. Just give it to me.' No question, she knew what she was doing. It would be impossible not to. If you're injecting something, you know what is going on. You see changes so quick."

Over a two-week period of repeated attempts by ESPN.com, Jones couldn't be reached for comment. Nor could her former agent, Charlie Wells, who was sentenced to six months of home detention for his role in the bank fraud scheme. Neither of her criminal attorneys, F. Hill Allen and Henry DePippo, responded to numerous messages from ESPN.com over the same time frame.

As for Jones' past denials about her use of drugs, Montgomery says, "She is a great actor. She doesn't believe in reality. She thinks she can say something and make it stick. And like most athletes, the first thing we say is 'I'm not guilty.'"

Accordingly, history will remember Montgomery and Jones, once the royal couple of sprinting, as vociferous liars, says the country's lead sports doping official.

"Yeah, there is no question Marion and Tim knew exactly what they were doing," says Tygart, the USADA boss. "This is despite their public statements and vehemently denying [performance-enhancing drug use] and then attacking those that were simply doing their job. They both went after us vigorously and the federal prosecutor vigorously, but we all know it was just made up."

The doping story

The prison camp that Montgomery and 900 or so other inmates call home sits on the far end of the Maxwell Air Force Base. It is beyond the base's residential streets of neatly kept homes, beyond the playground, the grocery store and the horse stable. It is beyond the handful of retired fighter jets, remnants from an earlier time, that are displayed around the Air University campus, where military pilots come to be schooled in contemporary aircraft.

Beyond all that is the coincidentally named Montgomery Building, a brick two-story structure where the former World's Fastest Man now lays his head at night.

"It's like my own building," Montgomery says in reference to the name. And it's here, when alone with his thoughts, that his mind most often takes him back to his introduction to BALCO, to his life with Marion Jones, to the world record and to how it all came tumbling down.

It's here, too that he says he sometimes lets himself dream about the future, about competing again, maybe even in the 2012 London Olympics.

He leans forward now in a light blue upholstered chair in the prison office, his arms pressed forward on a conference table. Outside, inmates -- mostly drug offenders -- are milling about in the standard olive green uniforms as the noon hour approaches. There are no high barbed-wire fences here. No guard towers. Only prescribed boundaries, beyond which they are not to wander.

For the interview with Montgomery, officials didn't allow ESPN.com to bring cameras or recording devices onto the grounds.

"It may not look too bad, but it is prison," says Chalon Moore, a spokesperson for the facility. "You can't leave."

If it isn't Fox River State Penitentiary of "Prison Break" fame, it's at least harsh enough to bring Montgomery back to the present every morning and, on this day, keep him talking about the past.

He admits now he was on his own heavy doping regimen of testosterone and human growth hormone leading up to the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, where he ran in the prelims for the eventual gold-medal-winning U.S. 4x100 relay squad. The source of the drugs at that time wasn't Conte of BALCO fame, though Conte admits he provided Montgomery with a designer steroid once he was in Sydney.

"I didn't meet him until I got to Sydney," Conte says of Montgomery. "I actually met him inside the Olympic Village. I was working with other athletes, including Alvin Harrison. Someone came out and got me and took me in. Later, we got in a cab and we talked and I gave Tim some of the clear."

The earlier drugs, according to Montgomery, came through his then-coach, Trevor Graham, who arranged for some of his athletes to procure performance enhancers from Angel "Memo" Heredia. A former Mexican discus thrower who lives in Laredo, Texas, Heredia had connections and easy access to anabolic steroids across the border in Mexico, Montgomery says.

"The first time I was taking something is when I got with Trevor," Montgomery says. "Trevor was sending athletes to Memo. It was crazy. You'd go down and walk across the border into Mexico, sit in a lab. Nothing is FDA-approved or anything.

"Trevor had us believing we had to do this, that it was the way to be successful and run fast. As a coach, you're thinking what he says is gospel. He's the coach. It's not like you can call your mother to ask what she thinks. This is the guy you believe in, and he's calling the shots."

Heredia, 34, was a key government witness during Graham's trial last year, when the coach was convicted on a felony charge of making false statements to federal investigators and sentenced to a year of home confinement. (Graham was cleared on two other counts.) Ironically, Graham had been portraying himself as one of the good guys for helping the government uncover the BALCO doping ring in 2003 by sending a syringe containing the clear to the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency. Apparently, he is still standing by that story.

"With respect to being the original BALCO whistle-blower, Mr. Graham has never regretted taking those actions," Paul Alsdorf, one of his trial attorneys, told ESPN.com.

Graham's house arrest sentence ends in late October. He declined to be interviewed for this story, but through Alsdorf, he denied that he provided drugs to his athletes.

"Tim Montgomery's claims repeat the same type of allegations that the government was not able to prove at Mr. Graham's trial in San Francisco last year," Alsdorf said after consulting with the former sprint coach.

In a June 2004 interview with federal investigators, Graham also denied any involvement with steroids despite grand jury testimony to the contrary from several athletes, including shot-putter C.J. Hunter, quarter-miler Antonio Pettigrew and sprinter Michelle Collins. In the 11-page memorandum of the interview, a copy of which was obtained by ESPN.com, Graham denied providing steroids to Jones. He denied opening shipments of drugs from Conte. He denied ever directing athletes to Heredia to procure drugs, and he denied even being aware of athletes' getting drugs from Mexico.

Heredia could not be reached for comment, but he testified last year that he supplied Graham with performance-enhancing drugs for his athletes, including Jones in the lead-up to the Sydney Games. A jury convicted Graham of lying to federal agents when he claimed to have had only a single conversation with Heredia -- the jurors were shown records of more than 100 telephone calls -- but it reached an impasse on two other charges: that Graham lied when he told agents he had never set his athletes up to get drugs from Heredia, and that he lied again about never having met Heredia in person. The jury voted 10-2 to convict him on the first charge, and 11-1 on the second (jurors were shown a photo of Graham and Heredia together); but it needed unanimity for a guilty verdict.

Montgomery wasn't called as a witness at Graham's trial because of what the sprinter calls a "credibility issue." However, he says during the prison interview in Alabama that a visit to Mexico, in addition to picking up a supply of drugs, often included blood chemistry testing to ensure the athlete's health wasn't being compromised by the steroids. He says Heredia also used the lab results to determine whether the athlete was at risk of failing a drug test.

According to medical records obtained by ESPN.com, Montgomery's testosterone levels were measured across the border in a Nuevo Laredo lab on Feb. 17, 2000, and then again the following day. The report indicates his testosterone level nearly doubled within that 24-hour period, presumably the result of a heavy dose of testosterone.

"He was trying to find out how much I could take before [his testosterone level] shoots up," Montgomery recalls. "Later, Victor [Conte] was more sophisticated. Memo was a Russian-roulette person, his idea being that you got to run from the [drug] testers. You got to avoid them … You just injected testosterone and then you'd hide out for 12 days. Don't go home. Don't answer your phone. Train at night and be in the hotel in the day. You didn't want to get caught."

Later, under the supervision of Conte, Montgomery had lab work done on an almost weekly basis over a five-month span in 2001, according to doping ledgers obtained by ESPN.com. He never tested positive, including up to the time he was suspended in 2005. The suspension was based on his testimony before the BALCO grand jury.

The sprinter and BALCO's Conte split before the 2002 season in what Conte describes as a dispute over $25,000 in fees owed.

"He wanted to pay half and the other half the next year," Conte says. "He wanted the money so he could open a strip club."

Montgomery, who grew up in the small town of Gaffney, S.C., says he thought the doping regimens were more or less standard operating procedure at the top levels of track and field.

"Yes, I did take something," Montgomery says. "Did I know it was anabolic steroids? Yes. It's hard to be around Victor Conte and not know what you're taking, because he is such a braggart."

Montgomery says he reached out to Conte in July of 2000, two months before the Sydney Games. But when Graham caught wind of it, according to both Montgomery and Conte, he interceded with Conte and suggested that BALCO first design an undetectable pharmacology program for his camp's star athlete, Marion Jones. Conte didn't begin to work with Montgomery until the following November.

After Conte's initial phone conversation in July with Graham and C.J. Hunter, who was then married to Jones, Conte says he shipped Graham 15 doses of the clear, a then-undetectable steroid, intended for Jones. In his new book, "BALCO: The Straight Dope On Steroids, Barry Bonds, Marion Jones, & What We Can Do To Save Sports," Conte writes that upon first meeting Graham and Hunter in Sydney, he provided them with two bottles of growth hormone -- or eight doses -- which was to be used to help Jones get through the eight days of Olympic competition.

In his BALCO grand jury testimony, a copy of which has been obtained by ESPN.com, Hunter confirmed that Jones was fueled by performance enhancers -- including the clear, growth hormone, insulin and EPO -- during her memorable Sydney Games. He described an incident in which Graham came to the apartment the couple shared in Sydney and placed the drugs in the refrigerator. He testified that he witnessed Jones inject herself with HGH in their Sydney apartment. Hunter also told grand jurors he was present on the practice track, just days before the start of competition in Sydney, when Graham called Conte for advice after Jones complained of muscle tightness caused by the clear. The tightness eventually went away.

When a grand juror asked why Jones took the clear, Hunter said Graham had his star athlete on a doping regimen after she injured her back running the 200 meters at the 1999 World Championships in Seville, Spain, an injury that forced her to withdraw from the meet and end her season.

"[Graham's] comment was he never wanted to see her laying on the track again," Hunter told the jurors. "So, he went out to do whatever he had to do to make sure that didn't happen."

Montgomery, who eventually replaced Hunter in Jones' life, officially entered the BALCO world in November 2000 during a three-day meeting -- attended by, among others, Graham -- that launched "Project World Record." The idea was to turn the slender, talented sprinter -- nicknamed "Tiny Tim" -- into the World's Fastest Man. After the third day, Montgomery was sent home with calendars that detailed his track and weight training workouts, as well as a doping schedule that featured undetectable designer steroids.

Montgomery says the BALCO drugs intended for Jones came to Hunter, who passed them on to Graham, the coach. Later, they were shipped to Montgomery. Both Montgomery and Hunter told the grand jury that packages containing the performance-enhancing drugs were discernible by the fictitious name on the return label: Vince Reed.

"If it had 'BALCO' on it, it was the vitamins," Montgomery says . "If it was 'Vince Reed,' it was something that shouldn't be in the mail. Maybe it was once a week. Packages for Marion came to me, and I'd give them to Trevor."

Montgomery says there was a reason the drugs weren't sent directly to Graham.

"His wife is a sheriff's deputy," Montgomery says. "She didn't know about it. If packages come and are intercepted and a sheriff's deputy is his wife, it's gonna be big trouble. Victor and Trevor had it all figured out. Trevor was behind everything. He wanted to be the best nutritionist and drug coach."

As for the benefits he received from the drugs, Montgomery says, "I got stronger, muscular."

In 2002, after he split with Conte, Montgomery ran his world-record 9.78. And on that September day in Paris, Montgomery and Jones, striding hand in hand, let the world know they were young, fast and in love. For a brief moment, their lives were perfect.

Then …

"My world came crashing down," says Montgomery in the associate warden's office. His voice is a few decibels above a whisper.

Mike Fish is an investigative reporter for ESPN.com. He can be reached at michaeljfish@gmail.com.