Four months ago, Marion Jones and Tim Montgomery were the feel-good story of track and field. Montgomery set the world record in the 100 meters in September, and the world learned of his romantic relationship with Jones, the queen of sprinters since 1997.
Now the world's fastest couple is dealing with unanticipated flak since their decision to surreptitiously seek the coaching advice of Charlie Francis, best known for coaching Canadian Ben Johnson, stripped of his 1988 Olympic 100 gold medal after a positive test for steroids.
Francis has also stated on Internet sites it's impossible to win at the elite level without drugs.
The fallout: The president of the international track federation, Lamine Diack, said he wants to talk to Jones ''like a father'' and persuade her to sever ties with Francis. ''It does not mean that Marion Jones is going to take doping to improve,'' Diack said. ''I don't expect that. She is a nice girl. But it is not very good for her image and for the image of our sport.'' The organizers of the top track meets in Europe are discussing not inviting Jones and Montgomery to their lucrative events. Jones and Montgomery may abort their winter training/competition trip to Australia, where their affiliation with Francis is controversial because of a strong domestic anti-doping agency. USA Track & Field, the national governing body, has communicated with the pair and their agent, Charley Wells. ''We've expressed our concern about what we've read,'' says USATF CEO Craig Masback. ''I'd characterize discussions as ongoing.'' Nike, principal sponsor of Jones and Montgomery, can't be happy the high-profile couple is linked to a coach associated with scandal. The company's public line: athletes are free to choose their coaches.
There's nothing preventing Jones and Montgomery from working with Francis, despite his lifetime coaching ban in Canada. So why sneak around? So far the sprinters and Wells haven't commented, though that may change.
''We are going to address these issues,'' Wells said Tuesday, declining to answer questions. ''We will have a statement or have a press conference soon. Maybe this week or next week.''
The saga began in December when Jones and Montgomery fired their coach, Trevor Graham. They later said they'd be working with unknown Canadian Derek Hansen.
After Wells denied reports the sprinters were in Toronto working with Francis, photos were taken of Francis working with the athletes at an indoor facility in Toronto.
L'Equipe, the French sports daily, staked out the facility and reported the couple trained with Francis three times in a week.