Disgraced sprinter Tim Montgomery says he’s done.

The former 100-meter world record holder has retired, rather than waiting out a two-year suspension and returning under a cloud of suspicion.

“I don’t want to be looked upon as a cheat,” he said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press on Thursday.

Although he did not test positive for drugs, Montgomery was banned for doping based on evidence gathered in the criminal investigation of BALCO, a San Francisco-area lab that served many high-profile athletes.

“It’s like getting a whipping for something you know you didn’t do,” Montgomery said.

The 30-year-old runner maintains he never knowingly took steroids or any other banned substances, and worries about his legacy.

“That’s the main concern because I don’t know what to tell my kids,” Montgomery said. “I don’t know what to tell my mother and father, even though they say they love me and don’t worry about it.”

Montgomery said he and three-time Olympic gold medalist Marion Jones have split, although they remain in regular contact. They have a 2-year-old son, Monty.

The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency sought a four-year ban, but the Court of Arbitration for Sport cut the time in half in a ruling issued this week.

The punishment relied heavily on the testimony of fellow sprinter Kelli White, who accepted a two-year ban and agreed to cooperate with investigators.

“I don’t even know Kelli White,” Montgomery said, “so why would I tell Kelli White anything.”

All of Montgomery’s performances were wiped off the books as of March 31, 2001 – that includes the world record of 9.78 seconds he set in Paris in September 2002. Asafa Powell of Jamaica broke that record with a 9.77-second run in Athens last June 14.

Montgomery said BALCO founder Victor Conte served as his nutritionist from December 2000 to June 2001 and told him that all of the substances he was providing were legal.

“Victor wouldn’t be Victor if he told you what was in it,” Montgomery said. “He assured me no steroid was involved.”

Montgomery conceded that Conte could have supplied him with banned substances without his knowledge.

“But I never tested positive,” the sprinter said.

Conte, serving a four-month prison term as part of a plea bargain, has admitted distributing the steroid THG, which at the time could not be detected in tests. That changed when Trevor Graham, former coach for Montgomery and Jones, sent a vial containing THG to USADA that tipped authorities to what some athletes were using.

Montgomery said he “never heard of THG” until the substance became news.

Montgomery, however, testified that in 2001 Conte gave him weekly doses of human growth hormone and the “clear,” the San Francisco Chronicle reported in June 2004.

The San Jose Mercury News published details last year of a plan Montgomery and Conte came up with in 2000 to turn him into the world’s fastest man. The plan – “Project World Record” – allegedly called for Montgomery to take THG.

Montgomery acknowledged he had associated with a bad crowd.

“That’s why I’m accepting what happened to me,” he said. “My mother always told me “Watch the company you keep.”‘

But because his world record run came long after he split with Conte, he considers it legitimate.

“Mentally, they can’t take that away from me,” Montgomery said.

Jones has never tested positive for improper drugs and, unlike Montgomery, faced no accusations from the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency. But because of allegations from Conte and ex-husband C.J. Hunter, along with the same scrutiny association that Montgomery faced, she has been dogged by suspicion wherever she raced.

Jones, who won an unprecedented five track medals at the Sydney Olympics, withdrew from the U.S. championships last summer, picking up her warmup clothes and walking away from the 100-meter heat blocks. Later, her agent cited an injury. She hasn’t raced since.

“She wants to go out and race to prove herself and that’s going to be tough,” Montgomery said. “But she can prove it to herself, and that’s the most important thing.”

He said he doesn’t know Jones’ specific plans.

“When we talk, it’s just about the child,” Montgomery said.

He said he plans to start a magazine called “Real Talk” to allow athletes to talk about issues of the day.

Montgomery’s suspension ends in June 2007. His coach, Steve Riddick, said he isn’t sure the sprinter’s through running yet.

“He may say he’s retiring, but ask him again in a month,” Riddick said.

Retired AP track and field writer Bert Rosenthal contributed to this report

AP-ES-12-15-05 1601EST

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