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Ben Johnson's coach, Charlie Francis comes clean

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.

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Hot on the heels of Ben Johnson's fall from grace, the Canadian government establishes the Commission of Inquiry Into the Use of Drugs and Banned Practices Intended to Increase Athletic Performance, headed by Ontario Appeal Court Chief Justice Charles Dubin. The Dubin Inquiry, as it becomes known, hears reams of testimony about the widespread use of performance-enhancing drugs among athletes. Among those who testify is Johnson's coach, Charlie Francis. He testifies that Johnson was only one of many Canadian athletes to take banned substances. 
. The Dubin Inquiry cost between $3 and 4 million, sat for 91 days, saw 119 witnesses and produced over 14,000 pages of testimony.
. Charlie Francis was the star witness at the Dubin Inquiry. He testified that he believed 80 per cent of Olympic track and field athletes from around the world used drugs. Others said it was more like 30 to 40 per cent. Even the lowest of these figures translates into more than 2,500 athletes at Seoul.

. Top Canadian sprinter Angella Issajenko, Johnson's training partner, also testified at the Dubin Inquiry, detailing the use of steroids among Canadian track and field athletes, including Johnson and herself.
. Issajenko told the inquiry she had routinely injected Johnson with steroids supplied by Dr. Jamie Astaphan. She provided bottles containing what she was told was furazabol, but actually contained stanozolol. The inquiry concluded that Johnson had mistakenly taken stanozolol instead of another steroid.

. While the Inquiry was underway (soon after Francis testified) the Ontario Track and Field Association and then the International Amateur Athletic Federation passed new rules stripping the records of athletes who confessed to drug use. Previously, the athlete had to fail their drug test to invalidate a record. The result was that Francis' group was punished, and from that point on athletes kept their mouths shut. Four world records were retroactively struck down: three of Johnson's, and one for Issajenko.

. Though she had never failed a drug test, Angella Issajenko was banned, then reinstated, then placed on probation.
. In a 2003 interview, Issajenko said she regrets speaking the truth at the inquiry. "Canada is the only country that was willing to crucify their athletes," she said.

. Charles Dubin's report criticized the testing policies and procedures of the Canadian government and amateur sports bodies. As a result, Canada established the Canadian Anti-Doping Organization in 1991. The independent, non-profit organization oversees policy, practice and implementation of drug testing nationwide. It helped Canada become a world leader in the battle against performance-enhancing substances in sport.

. Jamie Astaphan was banned from practicing medicine in Ontario, and served prison time in the United States for conspiracy to distribute cocaine and steroids. He moved to St. Kitts in the Caribbean to run a medical practice. He died there of a heart attack in August 2006, at age 60.

. In 1989, Charlie Francis was banned from coaching Canadian athletes, but continued to coach world-class athletes from other nations. They included U.S. Olympic champions Tim Montgomery and Marion Jones (the couple dropped Francis in 2003 after they were criticized for associating with him.) He lives in Toronto.
Medium: Television
Program: CBC Television News
Broadcast Date: March 7, 1989
Guest(s): Charlie Francis, Jean-Guy Ouellette
Reporter: Lynn Whitham
Duration: 2:57

Last updated: February 14, 2012

Page consulted on September 10, 2014

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