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Ben Johnson – From Athletics superstar to its biggest cheat

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					Ben Johnson – From Athletics superstar to it’s biggest cheat

At age 15, Johnson met coach Charlie Francis. Francis convinced him to join the Scarborough
Optimists track and field club, training at York University.

According to Francis, Johnson was a poor runner when he first started training. Francis says once
a particularly slow kid quit the team, citing the reason, "even Ben is beating me."

It was in a quiet meeting with Francis, in Toronto in September 1981, three months before his
20th birthday that Francis brought up the subject of steroids. He informed Johnson that steroids
represented 1 % of performance, or the equivalent of one metre in the 100 metres, and he
suggested that it was time to put Johnson in touch with his doctor. And it was a few days later
that Johnson phoned Francis. He had made up his mind, and yes, he wanted that extra metre.

By the time that Johnson started taking steroids in 1981, Ben's future rival Carl Lewis had
already become accustomed to having people accuse him of doing the same. The rumours
connecting Lewis to drugs began at college, they were inflated at the World Championships in
1983 and went so far as to take the shape of a story that he was on gorilla hormone and that a
cyst the size of a golf ball had grown on his chest.

1982 saw Ben grab two silver medals at the Commonwealth Games in Australia, one of which
was the 100 metres. He finished behind Alan Wells of Scotland with a time of 10.07. Ben would
eventually win Commonwealth gold at the 1986 games in Edinburgh, beating a young Linford
Christie for the 100 metre title with a time of 10.07. Ben also lead the Canadian 4x100m relay
team to gold, and added to the medal haul by nabbing a bronze in the 200 metres. However, it
was the rivalry with Carl Lewis that will go down in history.

In 1985, after seven consecutive losses, Johnson did finally beat Lewis and he would spend the
next two years repeating the trick (most notably at the 1986 Goodwill Games, where he
embarrassed Lewis running 9.95 for first place, against Lewis' third-place 10.06 time). Johnson's
time of 9.95 seconds was the fastest ever recorded at sea level.

While the events of 1986 were impressive, the enormity of Seoul 1988 was based hugely on the
events of 1987.

In May 1987, Lewis’s father died of cancer and it was at the funeral that Lewis pulled from his
pocket his gold medal from the Los Angeles 100 metres and put it in his father’s hands. “I want
you to have this,” he said, “because it was your favorite event.” When his mother expressed her
surprise, he said calmly: “Don’t worry, I’ll get another one.”

But by the time of the World Championships, later that summer, Johnson had won their previous
four races and Lewis’s words were beginning to look foolhardy. And Rome would only rubber-
stamp the fact that Johnson had dethroned the king. Ben breezed through qualifying, winning his
first heat (10.24), quarter-final (10.14), and semi-final (10.15) with ease. In the finals, however,
Ben stepped it up a notch, smashing the world record, in 9.83 seconds, almost exactly a metre
ahead of Lewis, exactly the lead that Francis once told him the steroids could provide.

All Lewis could manage in return was a controversial interview on British television. “There are
gold medallists at this meet who are on drugs,” he said. “That (100 metres) race will be looked at
for many years, for more reasons than one.” To which Johnson later replied: “When Carl Lewis
was winning everything, I never said a word against him. And when the next guy comes along
and beats me, I won’t complain about that either.”
Ben Johnson – From Athletics superstar to it’s biggest cheat

Going into 1988 Johnson had indeed inherited the earth: he had meanwhile become a massive
commercial magnet and in Canada he became the foremost national sporting treasure. For
Canadians, Johnson was putting one over big brother next door and they loved him for it. After
Rome, Johnson started to make a lot of money. According to coach Charlie Francis, after
breaking the world record Johnson earned about $480,000 a month in endorsements.

But, in almost every way, 1988 would be a terrible year for him. In February he pulled a
hamstring in Tokyo at the start of the season, in May he would aggravate the same injury and in
June he found himself the centre of a power struggle between Francis and Jamie Astaphan, the
doctor who monitored his drugs programme. And all the while, Lewis was finding his form. In
Paris in June, Lewis ran a 9.99 and boasted: “All I know is that I’m running better than ever and
Ben isn’t running at all.”

Ben ran a 9.90 wind assisted time in the Canadian Championships in early August, and won
again in Sestriere, with a 9.98 seconds at a higher altitude. Then in Zurich, on August 17, when
the two faced each other for the first time since Rome, Lewis won in 9.93 with Johnson finishing
third. “The gold medal for the (Olympic) 100 metres is mine,” Lewis bragged afterwards. “I will
never again lose to Johnson.” Four days after Zurich he lost again to Calvin Smith in Cologne
which sent him back to Toronto.

Was Johnson panicked by all this into a late run to the drugs cabinet? Not according to Francis.
In his book, Speed Trap, Francis relates that Johnson simply returned to Toronto to complete, as
planned, his final pre-Olympic drugs programme: three steroid injections plus three more of
human growth hormone. Thereafter, Johnson and Francis’s other sprinters would receive
treatment on a diapulse machine, to help to remove the steroids from their systems, and later a
diuretic to prevent weight gain.

The defeat by Lewis in Zurich, which ended Johnson's run of five victories over the Olympic
champion since Los Angeles was, the Canadian said: "Because I was tired after my race in
Sestriere (the week before), and we came down from altitude too late. "Also my start was very
bad. I guarantee this time, no one is going to beat me out of the blocks. I want to win that
Olympic gold medal. He (Lewis) could beat me a thousand times, but as long as I win this one, it
                                  wouldn't matter.

                                 September 24, 1988 was the date of the 100 metre final in
                                 Seoul. During the heats, Lewis' times were faster. Johnson did
                                 not look good and eased up too much in his second round, and
                                 only got through as a fastest loser.

                                 However in the finals, all of that changed. Johnson burst out of
                                 the blocks, seized the lead, and held it. Lewis, on the other
                                 hand, got a characteristically slower start, but instead of
                                 accelerating past his adversary, he looked to his right three
                                 times, always to see Johnson in front of him. Before he even
                                 crossed the finish line, Ben raised his index finger to signal that
                                 he was still No. 1. Carl Lewis had run faster than in Rome —
                                 but lost by more. Johnson had smashed his own world record
                                 with a time of 9.79 seconds. Lewis finished second with a time
                                 of 9.92 seconds. Linford Christie of Great Britain finished third
at 9.97 seconds.

Johnson led for the entire race, destroying the competition by hitting a maximum speed of 27
mph (43.4 km/h). It took him just 45 strides to reach victory after an explosive start from the
Ben Johnson – From Athletics superstar to it’s biggest cheat

blocks - once again demonstrating his ability to react incredibly quickly to the starter's gun, to
the extent that it is said that he could almost secure a race in the first second. He slowed slightly
in the last few metres to look across his shoulder and raise a finger of triumph in the air. He told
reporters at the post-race news conference he felt easily capable of running an even faster time.
"If I had gone through I would have got 9.75 - but I'm saving that for next year," he said.

It is worth putting his achievement in context. Between 1968 and 1983 the 100m record was
shaved by 0.04s. In one year Johnson took 0.16s off the record. Johnson had also managed to
run 9.79 after his worst year’s preparation, so how fast would he have gone had his body and his
training not been afflicted by those two injuries?

Johnson’s urine sample was analysed on Sunday, September 25 at the IOC-accredited laboratory
in Seoul. 90 nanograms of stanozolol, an anabolic steroid, found.

Johnson's 1987 world record was removed by IAAF from the books as well. But Johnson and
hundreds of other athletes have long complained that they used doping in order to remain on an
equal footing with the other top athletes on drugs they had to compete against.

His claim bears some weight in light of the revelations since 1988. Including Johnson, four of the
top five finishers of the 100-metre race have all tested positive for banned drugs at one point or
another. They are Carl Lewis, who was given the gold medal, along with Linford Christie who
was moved up to the silver medal, and Dennis Mitchell. Of these, only Johnson was forced to
give up his records and his medals, although he was the only one of the four who tested positive
or admitted using drugs during a medal-winning performance. Later, Christie was caught using
steroids and banned. According to documents released in 2003 by a former senior US anti-
doping official, Dr. Wade Exum, Lewis and two of his training partners all took the same three
types of banned stimulants (ones found in over-the-counter cold medicine), and were caught at
the 1988 US Olympic trials, which is the competition used to select the US athletes that will
compete in the Olympics.

Johnson's coach, Charlie Francis, a vocal critic of the IOC testing procedures, is the author of
Speed Trap, which features Johnson heavily. In the book he freely admits that his athletes were
taking anabolic steroids, as he claims all top athletes are.

After a 2 year ban, Johnson attempted a comeback. He failed to qualify for the 1991 World
Championships and though he did make the Canadian team for the 1992 Olympics, he finished
last in the semi-final of the 100m after stumbling out of the blocks. His best time in the 100
metres since his 9.79 in 1988 was 10.16 seconds, 0.37 seconds slower than his banished world-
record time.

				
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