CARSON, Calif. (AP) – Marion Jones grabbed her warmup clothes and walked off the track moments before the start of the 100-meter preliminaries at the U.S. track and field championships on Friday, a stunning exit for the woman who once dominated the event.

Moments later, Olympic gold medalist Justin Gatlin was disqualified from the men’s 100 for a false start. However, Gatlin protested and was reinstated into the semifinals on a referee’s decision.

It was a strange evening on Day 2 of the four-day meet that will determine the U.S. team at the world championships in Helsinki on Aug. 6-14. Jones was considered a long shot to qualify, but she never even gave it a go.

Jones’ agent, Charles Wells, said that she had a hip flexor injury and would not compete in the 200 meters, either. The injury, he said, occurred two weeks ago during training.

“It was something that was very minor,” Wells said. “She worked out and thought she was ready to go. She got to the track and it started bothering her, and she decided not to risk it.”

Jones, a two-time world champion and 2000 Olympic gold medalist in the 100, has been dogged by doping suspicion for two seasons, even though she never has tested positive for performance enhancing drugs and has vehemently denied ever taking them. Jones was once the charismatic darling of the sport, winner of an unprecedented five track medals at the Sydney Games.

She took 2003 off to have a baby, and never returned to her old form. Meanwhile, through associations and accusations by her ex-husband and the founder of the Bay Area Laboratory Cooperative, doping suspicions grew.

BALCO founder Victor Conte, facing criminal charges, has said Jones had used steroids, and Jones has filed a defamation lawsuit in response.

She needed only to have a better time than two of the 20 runners in the preliminaries at the U.S. championships to advance to Saturday’s semifinals.

Jones, running in the third and final heat, took one warmup run out of the blocks, then walked up and down her lane before going to pick up her clothes from a plastic bucket behind her starting blocks. She walked briskly off the track and left Home Depot Center.

“I looked around and she wasn’t there,” said Shalonda Solomon, also running in the heat. “And the officials were like “Marion’s gone.”‘

Jones’ abrupt departure came hours after her boyfriend, former world record holder Tim Montgomery, withdrew from the men’s 100, ending his chances of qualifying for Helsinki.

“Considering everything that’s going on, he just can’t concentrate on track and field,” Wells said.

Gatlin, who had talked at length about his budding rivalry with new world record holder Asafa Powell of Jamaica, was called for a false start based on computer readings of the pressure he puts on the blocks. The field gets one false start, but anyone who has one after that is eliminated.

Gatlin’s alleged false start came in the first heat. Bernard Williams was disqualified for a false start in the second heat. Maurice Greene, who won Williams’ heat, said, “He’s holding us for like a thousand years. He’s like no other starter in the world.”

Montgomery had no start at all.

He set the world 100 record at 9.78 seconds in 2002, and the mark stood until Powell ran 9.77 last week.

The father of Jones’ child, Montgomery is awaiting word on his appeal of the lifetime ban proposed by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.

The appeal was heard earlier this month by the international Court of Arbitration for Sport, which has the final word. Montgomery has not tested positive for steroids or any other banned substance, but USADA proposed the punishment based on evidence gathered in the criminal probe of BALCO.

In competition on Friday, Olympic silver medalist Bryan Clay set a world decathlon discus record.

Clay, the heavy favorite in the 10-event competition with the absence of injured Tom Pappas, threw 183 feet, 3 inches to break the world mark of 180-5 set by Razvigor Yankov of Bulgaria in 1979.

AP-ES-06-24-05 2302EDT

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