CHICAGO - Disgraced track star Marion Jones says she often thinks she would have won gold medals at the 2000 Sydney Olympics even if she hadn't taken a designer steroid known as "the clear."

"I'll ask myself, 'Well, if you hadn't been given "the clear" do you think you would've won?' " Jones said on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" broadcast yesterday, her first postprison interview. "I usually answer, 'Yes.' "

Jones, 33, apologized to her teammates and tearfully read a letter she wrote in prison, in which she told her children she lied to federal prosecutors because she didn't love herself enough to tell the truth.

Jones described how prosecutors showed her a vial of a designer steroid and asked if she'd taken it. She said she immediately recognized it as a substance her former coach, Trevor Graham, had given her, but then she lied.

"I made the decision I was going to lie and try to cover it up," Jones said on Winfrey's show, which was taped. "I knew that all of my performances would be questioned."

Jones was released last month from a Texas federal prison after completing most of her 6-month sentence for lying about doping and her role in a check-fraud scam.

After denying she had ever used performance-enhancing drugs, Jones admitted in federal court last year that she used the designer steroid from September 2000 to July 2001. That led to her being stripped of three gold medals and two bronzes she won in Sydney.

Jones said on Winfrey's show that her sentence was fair and that losing her medals was fair. She said she will never run again and wants to find a way to inspire young people to make better decisions than she did. *