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Dashing Couple

Tim Montgomery has the world record. Marion Jones has everything but. Together they make a ...

October 24, 2002|Helene Elliott | Times Staff Writer

Eddie Montgomery got his first glimpse of his son's future when he realized 6-year-old Tim almost didn't need a head start in their races around the family backyard in Gaffney, S.C.

But it wasn't until after Tim broke his wrist and thumb twice playing high school football and his mother, appalled by the medical bills, asked him to try a less costly sport, that he learned about his parents' contribution to his unique gift.

Margie Montgomery, a lab technician for a textile company, was a runner as a girl.

"She never ran on the level where she ran against anybody, but she told me how she chased a rabbit until its heart burst," Tim said. "She chased it so hard and so long, its heart just stopped."

Eddie Montgomery, a department manager for the same textile company, was a sergeant in Vietnam, where he suffered a facial wound and won a Purple Heart. Ask how long he was there and he responds without missing a beat, "Twelve months, six days, three hours and 46 minutes." Yes, he was counting.

"My father would always say, 'I was fast, and I could have been this and I could have been that, but I had to go to war,' " Tim said. "He'd say, 'When I was in the jungle, I was running through the woods and no one could catch me or shoot me.'

"They all got stories, because they're trying to figure out, 'How did we have this?' "

This is the world's fastest man, the third of Eddie and Margie's four children and owner of the world record in the 100-meter dash since he was clocked in 9.78 seconds at the Grand Prix final Sept. 14 in Paris, breaking Maurice Greene's 3-year-old record by .01 of a second.

"I had him playing pro football," Eddie Montgomery said by telephone from Gaffney, where he and Margie still live. "But Tim got onto the track and started saying he was going to compete in the Olympics. I never brought it up. He said in ninth or 10th grade he was going to the Olympics and he went. He participated and won a silver medal [in 1996, for running a first-round heat of the 400-meter relay].

"Next thing you know, he's the fastest man in the world."

Slender and slight at 5 feet 10 and 155 pounds, 27-year-old Tim Montgomery doesn't look the part of Superman. During a recent visit to Los Angeles, he walked unnoticed among the joggers and runners who circled UCLA's Drake Field on a sunny morning.

"People have double-takes looking at me and saying, 'I can't believe it's you. Tim Montgomery is 6 feet. He's a monster,' " he said, smiling.

Anonymity won't last long for Montgomery, who won gold in Sydney in 2000 for running a first-round heat in the 400 relay.

Montgomery's goal in Paris was merely to beat Britain's Dwain Chambers, who became the darling of the European press by defeating Greene four times this summer. Chambers was the presumed heir to the sprint supremacy Greene appeared to have lost after a string of subpar performances. Montgomery, remembering his time of 9.84 last summer -- which matched what was then the third-best time ever -- and a string of sub-10-second clockings this season, felt slighted.

"Everyone was saying, 'No one can go under 9.79. It's impossible,' " he said. "I say, 'Everyone said flying was impossible, that man will never fly or go to the moon because they're afraid to take a chance and afraid of failure.' That's why I talk about the world record so much because if I don't believe it, no one else is going to tell me I can do it."

A superb start enabled him to run off with the record and into the arms of training partner and love interest Marion Jones, nearly fulfilling two dreams at once.

Montgomery, who trains with Jones and coach Trevor Graham in Raleigh, N.C., had envisioned breaking the record and embracing Jones afterward at the 50-meter mark. Instead, he broke the record and they kissed at the finish line, publicly affirming the bond they solidified by having each other's names tattooed on their arms a month earlier in Zurich after both won their 100-meter races.

His name is etched on the inside of her arm; her name is imprinted on his left wrist, beneath his watch. Jones, divorced last year from shotputter C.J. Hunter, is reluctant to discuss their relationship and declined an interview request, but Montgomery acted like a love-struck kid, happy for excuses to say her name aloud.

"That's like marriage. That's like telling all the women, 'Hey, hey, hey, I'm taken,' " he said of the "Marion" tattoo. "This is who I want. The friendship is forever, whatever else may happen. The friendship is there. She has been a great inspiration to me and has been there every step of the way. It's just like having a friend, lover and everything all together. You got this perfect spark. You see us together, you can see we both look greatly happy.

"She has been a great foundation to what I like to call this house I'm building. I started with the world record, and now it's time to put the foundation and rest of the house together with the world championship gold medal and Olympic gold medal."

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