Tim Montgomery's rise from unheralded sprinter to world's fastest man was the result of a secret project led by a California lab at the centre of a drug scandal, according to a published report.

Five men, including BALCO Laboratories owner Victor Conte and Canadian track coach Charlie Francis, plotted a drug-enhanced training regime for Montgomery to help the American athlete break the world 100-metre record, the San Jose Mercury News reported Tuesday.

The plan, dubbed "Project World Record," was reportedly born in the backrooms of the BALCO offices in late 2000. The plan was to make Montgomery a world-record holder, and in turn, help promote BALCO's legal supplement ZMA, the paper reported.

Montgomery posted a world-best time of 9.78 seconds in the 100 metres less than two years later in Paris.

The paper, citing sources and corroborating documents, named Montgomery, Francis, Conte, track coach Trevor Graham and strength coach Milos Sarcev as the five masterminds behind the project.

Part of the program reportedly involved Montgomery taking the previously-undetectable designer steroid tetrahydrogestrinone (THG) eight times in May 2001.

According to the article, the group decided to keep its union a secret because it didn't want to be publicly associated with Francis.

Francis became a household name to Canadians in the 1980s as the coach of Ben Johnson, and his fame rose with the sprinter's. But he was banned from coaching in Canada after Johnson was stripped of his 100-metre Olympic gold medal in Seoul after testing positive for the anabolic steroid stanzolol.

Montgomery has never tested positive for any performance-enhancing drug and has repeatedly denied taking banned supplements.

"Tim Montgomery is a world-class runner who has never posted a dirty test in his life and is now being smeared by rumour and innuendo," Montgomery's lawyer, Cristina Arguedas, told the Mercury News.

"There is no evidence that Tim Montgomery took a banned substance of any kind in his life."

Montgomery isn't the only athlete to have his name associated with BALCO – the lab a the centre of an international doping probe.

Conte and three others, including the personal trainer for baseball star Barry Bonds, were charged in February with distributing THG and other banned performance-enhancing substances to high-profile track and field, football and baseball athletes.

All four defendants pleaded not guilty.

The Mercury News also reported that Marion Jones, Montgomery's partner, worked with Conte less than two months before the 2000 Sydney Olympics – an event at which she captured five medals.

Like Montgomery, Jones and Bonds have repeatedly denied ever using performance-enhancing drugs.