Hollow victory: Marion Jones, right, with teammates at the relay medal ceremony in Sydney. Seven years later, Jones and the rest of the team had to surrender their medals. (Getty)(ATR) Marion Jones told talk-show host Oprah Winfrey she had moments in prison "where I felt like my world was over... I'd made such a huge mistake" in the first interview since her release last month.
Yet after serving a six-month sentence for lying to federal investigators, the disgraced U.S. sprinter/long jumper held fast to her contention that she "never knowingly" took a performance-enhancing drug.
Jones blamed her former coach, Trevor Graham, for giving her the banned steroid tetrahydrogestrinone (THG) -- called "the clear" -- and telling her it was a supplement. She blamed herself for being too trusting.
Jones broke down in tears three times during the interview, the last time while reading a letter she had written to her two young children in which she said, "I truly believe that the reason I made the awful mistake and a few thereafter was because I didn't love myself enough to tell the truth."
The one-hour interview aired Wednesday in the United States. "The Oprah Winfrey Show" is syndicated to 212 domestic markets by CBS Television Distribution Group and to 140 countries by CBS Paramount International Television.
Because she is on probation for two years, Jones had to get permission to travel from her home in Texas to Chicago for the interview, which was held on a living-room set. Unlike most of Winfrey's shows, it was not in front of a live audience.
Winfrey introduced the show by saying Jones went "from Olympic Golden Girl to inmate."
Jones also said she believes she would have won her five Olympic medals at the Sydney Games without any drugs.
"There are moments when I will go through the races in my head quietly, privately and ask myself, 'If you weren't given 'the clear,' do you think you would have won? Do you think you would have beaten everybody?' And I usually answer yes."
But she said there will always be a question mark, which is not fair to anyone involved.
Jones told Winfrey she thought she was taking Vitamin C, Vitamin E, creatine and flaxseed oil, which was actually "the clear." But at the time, she attributed her increased energy on the track after a workout to "hard training and finally getting the supplements working."
"There was never a question in your mind that it would be illegal?" Winfrey asked.
"Never a question," Jones answered.
"That is really hard to believe," Winfrey said.
Jones said it all boiled down to her split-second decision to lie to federal investigators when they showed her a vial of "the clear," a drug developed by Victor Conte at the Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative (BALCO).
Jones said she recognized it as something given to her by her Graham. During the interview, she said she couldn't even remember what supplement Graham told her it was supposed to be. After prodding from Winfrey, she recalled he said it was flaxseed oil.
When the federal investigators showed her "the clear," "It's one of those moments you wish you could have back and do over again," Jones said. "In that brief moment, I made the decision, I had worked so hard in my career. I knew by tellng them I had taken the substance, all of that was going to be questioned."
When she considered how much an admission of taking drugs would hurt her family, her sponsors and her finances, Jones said, she decided, "I was going to lie. I was going to try to cover it up."
In hindsight, she said if she had stopped the interview and taken five minutes to consult with her attorneys, "things would be different."
Jones' account of what happened came up short with at least one veteran Olympic observer. Philip Hersh of the Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times wrote that he didn't believe Jones didn't know she was taking steroids.
"Maybe, Marion, the problem is you have become something of a pathological liar," he wrote Wednesday. "You lied to federal investigators about use of performance-enhancing drugs. You lied to federal investigators about your role in a money-laundering scheme. Now you want us to believe that you were totally unaware of what was going into your body after years of competing at a level where one failed drug test could end your career?"
Jones told Winfrey she didn't know anyone who had taken drugs. She said she agreed to take supplements "so I would be on an even playing field with everyone else."
She knew not to tell anyone, she said, because "things are very hush-hush in the world Marion Jones heads to a federal court in New York in Oct. 2007 to plead guilty to charges she lied to investigators about drug use. (Getty)of athletics, particularly when it comes to supplements or vitamins" because no one wants to give anyone from another camp an edge.
Winfrey asked about Victor Conte, the BALCO chief, who said on national television that he watched Jones inject herself with steroids.
"He was lying," Jones said. "I don't know his reasons or his motives."
She said she'd never gone to BALCO, but Graham and C.J. Hunter, her husband at the time, had a relationship with Conte and "went to him looking for supplement advice for the group and for myself."
Jones is now married to Obadele Thompson, a former sprinter from Barbados and has a one-year-old daughter with him. She also has a 5-year-old son with former world record holder Tim Montgomery.
Jones said she holds Graham accountable. He was sentenced last week to 12 months of home confinement for lying to BALCO investigators.
But ultimately she holds herself responsible for lying to federal prosecutors and not being more careful with the people she associated with and not asking more questions.
Forced to give back her five medals - three golds and two bronzes - Jones said they were "just hardware," but that it was worse to have her memories tarnished.
Of her teammates who also were stripped of their medals, she said, "At that moment in Sydney, I never meant to harm them."
Jones, 33, said she will never run again, but wants to use her story to connect with people and keep them from making bad choices in their own lives.
"There is a bit of sadness because I love to compete," she said, "but . I am energized by this next chapter and I think it's going to be bigger and better than that last chapter."
She added, "I do not want the legacy of Marion Jones-Thompson to be THIS."
Jones vowed to figure out why she made certain choices and how to "turn it all around." At last, she said, she is happy in her own skin.
"Finally for the first time that I can remember in a long time people are seeing me for me," Jones said, "and I'm OK with it."
For general comments or questions,