They remembered her records. The way she ran. How high she jumped. And the way she smiled, more than anything. For years, they defended Marion Jones when others tried to besmirch her name. She was their star and they knew her best, long before the world ever did. Jerry Sawitz even sent a letter to Time magazine defending Jones, whom he coached in the long jump at Thousand Oaks High in 1991-92. But now. … Now? … Now … they’re just sad. Friday afternoon, after years of steadfast denials, Marion Jones pleaded guilty in White Plains, N.Y., to lying to federal investigators about her use of banned drugs from 1999 to 2001, then apologized to her supporters and the sport in a tearful news conference on the courthouse steps in which she announced her retirement from track and field. Until Sawitz heard the words from Jones’ mouth, there was a part of him that believed she’d been clean. That part, the coach now says, is the part that has always wanted to believe her because of the Marion Jones he got to know as a high school junior and senior. “She was just one of the most amazing athletes you’re ever going to see. “I mean, once-in-a-lifetime kind of athletes,” Sawitz said. “I’ve seen her take a tennis ball and dunk it in a basketball hoop. I’d always defended her because what she was doing at 15 or 16; running the 100 meters in 11.1 (seconds) wasn’t that much of a stretch from what she did on the world stage. I just thought it was a natural progression for a great athlete. “But the Marion Jones you see today is a different person than the Marion Jones we knew in 1992. The Marion you see now is the result of a lot of poor decisions. It’s really sad.” Those who knew her at Thousand Oaks aren’t the only ones trying to make sense of the shocking turn of events. Inger Miller was never close with Marion Jones, but their careers have been intertwined for more than 15 years. Miller had starred at Muir High in Pasadena in 1987-90; Jones burst onto the scene as a freshman at Rio Mesa High in Oxnard in 1990 and was good enough as a 14-year-old to push Miller in her senior year. Later, they’d team on the winning 400-meter relay team at the 1997 World Championships. In 1999, Miller finished second to Jones in the 100 meters at the World Championships. Miller won the 200 meters in record time, but only after Jones pulled out with back spasms. Saying a prayer At the time, everyone wondered whether Jones would’ve won both races if she hadn’t got hurt. Now, that question has been flipped on its head. “It’s a shame that we are where we are right now,” said Miller, who now runs an event-planning company in Los Angeles. “It’s a good thing for everyone that the truth has come out. Ultimately, I think the sport is bigger than any one person.” Asked whether she thought she should be awarded the gold medal in the 100 from the 1999 World Championships, Miller said, “I just want them to do what’s just and what’s right. … This is a sad day. It’s not something I’m rejoicing over. It’s not a happy occasion.” Gail Devers, the former UCLA star who went on to win three Olympic gold medals and has competed against and with Jones since 1991, said she was saddened by Friday’s developments. “My first thought was to say a prayer for her and her family and whatever she is going through. That’s all we can do is pray. I am not the judge or jury,” Devers said. “All I ask is that she asks God for forgiveness and that her family and particularly her son will be shielded from any harm.” Now that Jones has admitted to lying to federal prosecutors about using banned substances, there could be a lot of rewriting of the record books. She could be stripped of the Olympic and World Championship medals she won. “She has done so much for the sport. I am sure that she was afraid of letting everybody down. Everybody makes mistakes and it’s hard for me to jump on her,” said rising sprint star Danielle Carruthers, a two-time indoor national champion in the 60 meters. “But she made some bad decisions and now she has to answer to it.” Jones’ brushes with the drug-testing authorities began in high school. In 1992, she missed an out-of-competition drug test when an overnight package informing her of the test was misplaced in a coaches office. High-profile lawyer Johnnie Cochran Jr. came to her aid, and she was later cleared at a hearing. Suspicions resurface The suspicions about Jones using performance enhancers resurfaced in 2000, when her then-husband, C.J. Hunter, tested positive for steroids. Then in 2003, her name was linked to Victor Conte and his BALCO operation. “You heard whispers and speculation, but I really tried to stay away from that,” Miller said. “I knew I was running as fast as I could, by doing things the right way, so I knew she (could be too).” Sawitz is one of the only people who knew Jones as a high schooler that is left at Thousand Oaks High. Head track coach Art Green died in August. Sprints coach Jerry Murphy passed away last year. Girls’ basketball coach Chuck Brown is retired, and did not return messages left at his home phone number. In 2000, when Jones won five medals (three gold, two bronze) at the Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia, about 200 people gathered at the Thousand Oaks Community Center, which is adjacent to the school campus, to watch her perform and to celebrate their hometown hero. In 2004 though, Jones published a book that claimed she was lonely, unhappy and had no friends in her years at Thousand Oaks. “To this day, my memories of Thousand Oaks are painful,” she wrote in “Marion Jones: Life in the Fast Lane.” “Thousand Oaks used me. But I used them too.” Those words stung Sawitz and those who’d known Jones in high school. He couldn’t imagine that the “happy-go-lucky girl” he’d known had been unhappy and lonely the whole time. So he called up one of her friends from high school, Samantha Clark (now Hollister), and asked how good of friends they were. “Samantha was like, ‘We were best friends. I thought,”‘ Sawitz said. “I didn’t know what to make of it. It was sad. I guess she’s just a different person.” Kirby Lee contributed to this report. [email protected] (818) 713-3617 Marion Jones’ statement Friday “Making these false statements to federal agents was an incredibly stupid thing for me to do, and I am responsible fully for my actions. I have no one to blame but myself for what I’ve done. “To you, my fans, including my young supporters, the United States Track & Field Association, my closest friends, my attorneys, and the most classy family a person could ever hope for, mainly my mother, my husband, my children, my brother and his family, my uncle and the rest of my extended family, I want you to know that I have been dishonest, and you have the right to be angry with me. “I have let them down. I have let my country down. And I have let myself down. I recognize that by saying that I’m deeply sorry, it might not be enough and sufficient to address the pain and the hurt that I have caused you. Therefore, I want to ask for your forgiveness for my actions, and I hope that you can find it in your heart to forgive me. “I have asked Almighty God for my forgiveness. Having said this and because of my actions, I am retiring from the sport of track and field, a sport that I deeply love. I promise that these events will be used to make the lives of many people improve. That by making the wrong choices and bad decisions can be disastrous. I want to thank you all for your time.”160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!