Ben Johnson: Banned for life
In 1976, Benjamin Sinclair Johnson was just a skinny immigrant kid struggling to make his high school track team. A decade later, he was a destroyer of world records, the "world's fastest man." Then it all came crashing down. His positive steroid test at the 1988 Seoul Olympics made headlines around the world, forever changing perceptions of Canadian athletes, the sport of track and field, and Ben Johnson.
. Johnson denied using steroids and pointed to clean drug tests he'd taken before and after the event, on January 15 and January 21. But he said he couldn't afford to fight the results in court.
. After hearing of the second failed drug test, federal amateur sport minister Pierre Cadieux called Ben Johnson a national disgrace, and suggested he consider moving back to Jamaica. Johnson called it "by far the most disgusting comment I have ever heard."
It wasn't the first time Canadians had tried to distance themselves from their former hero. Following his disqualification in Seoul, a Globe and Mail cartoon showed three sequential headlines:
. "Canadian Sprinter Wins Gold in 100 Metres!"
. "Jamaican-Canadian Athlete Tests Positive for Steroids!"
. "Jamaican Athlete Stripped of Gold Medal."
(In 1989 the Jamaican Amateur Athletics Association announced that in case anyone was wondering, Johnson would not be invited to compete for Jamaica.)
. In April 1999, a Canadian adjudicator ruled that there were procedural errors in Johnson's lifetime ban, and allowed him to appeal.
. The decision meant Johnson could technically run in Canada, but nobody would compete against him. They would be considered "tainted" and could also face suspensions. On June 12, 1999, Johnson entered a track meet in Kitchener, Ont., and was forced to run alone against the clock. He posted a time of 11.0 seconds.
. Johnson appealed the to the International Amateur Athletic Federation and lost. They upheld the lifetime ban in August 1999. Johnson went back to Toronto and started work as a building contractor.
. Since 1912 the IAAF has governed the sport of international track and field, including setting technical standards and overseeing records. In 2001 the word "amateur" was removed and the federation's name was changed to the International Association of Athletics Federations.
. In October 1999 in Charlottetown, Johnson entered his first "competition" since receiving his lifetime suspension: a charity race against two horses and a stock car. Some 7,000 fans braved a howling gale to see the outdoor race at the Charlottetown Driving Park.
. The distances were to be staggered, with Johnson running 80m, the horses 100m and 120m, and the car 140m.
. At the start of the race, the standardbred (named Wind-song) got spooked by the start of the stock car (Auto Plus No. 25), and took off early. Johnson was overtaken by the harness racing horse (Fast 'n Flashy) just before the finish line. He finished third, ahead of the stock car, which had lost traction in the muck. The benefit raised $10,000 for the Children's Wish Foundation.
. In 1997 Johnson agreed to work as a fitness coach to Argentine soccer star Diego Maradona. Maradona had been suspended for cocaine use in 1991 and for using banned stimulants in 1994.
. In 1999 Johnson was contracted to train soccer player Saadi Gadhafi, the 25-year-old son of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi. In November 2003 Saadi Gadhafi was suspended from the Italian Serie A soccer league for failing drug tests.
. Johnson's agent said he turned down an offer to have Johnson race a cheetah (which can reportedly run the 100m in 6.80 seconds).
. In July 2000 European newspapers took delight in reporting that Ben Johnson had been outrun by a gang of Gypsies in Rome. The report said a ten-year-old girl distracted Johnson while a man grabbed his wallet, containing $7,300 in cash. Johnson apparently gave chase, but was unable to catch the man.
Guest(s): Randy Starkman
Host: Mary Hynes
Last updated: February 15, 2012
Page consulted on December 6, 2013
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