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Ben Johnson's life out of the limelight

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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He still has the Ferrari, daily fan mail and -- however tainted -- a 100-metre time that has not been beaten. But Ben Johnson mostly stays out of the limelight. He lives with and supports his mother, using money earned long ago. He still trains every day and dreams of a return to the track as a runner or coach. In this clip from CBC Radio's The Inside Track, Ben Johnson explains why he still considers himself the world's fastest man.
• The record time of 9.79 seconds that Ben Johnson set during the 1988 Olympics was scratched from the books following his failed drug test. Canada reclaimed the record in 1996 with Donovan Bailey's 9.84. But nobody ran as fast as Johnson until 1999, when Maurice Green matched the 9.79 time at a Grand Prix meet in Athens. That record was surpassed on July 14, 2002, by Tim Montgomery's 9.78 time in Paris.

• In June 2004 The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency reportedly warned Montgomery that it planned to seek a lifetime ban against him for alleged doping infractions. A report in the San Jose Mercury News claimed that five men including Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative (BALCO) owner Victor Conte and former Johnson coach Charlie Francis plotted a secret, drug-enhanced training regime for Montgomery dubbed "Project World Record." Montgomery has never tested positive and denied taking banned supplements.

• Four of the top five sprinters in the 100-metre finals at Seoul have since been implicated in doping cases. It was later revealed that all three medallists tested positive that very year. The Seoul Olympics men's 100-metre final has been called, "the dirtiest race in history."
• Ben Johnson was the only sprinter of the group to lose his medals and records. None of the others had positive tests made public following a competition, or admitted to using steroids.

Carl Lewis (USA):
• Documents released in 2003 by former U.S. anti-doping head Dr. Wade Exum suggested Carl Lewis was caught using three banned stimulants in 1988 just prior to the Olympics. Lewis claimed inadvertent use, and his 12-week suspension was overturned on appeal by the United States Olympic Committee. They hid the results and allowed him to compete in Seoul. Lewis has nine Olympic gold medals, including the one stripped from Ben Johnson.

Linford Christie (UK):
• Christie, who was moved up to the silver medal in Seoul, was found to have traces of the stimulant pseudoephedrine in a post-race sample. He claimed it must have come from ginseng tea. Christie was allowed to keep his medal in an 11-10 IOC medical commission vote that decided to give him "the benefit of the doubt." In 1999, Christie tested positive for the steroid nandrolone and was banned for two years by the IAAF, and retired from running.

Dennis Mitchell (USA):
• Mitchell, who was moved up to fourth place in Seoul, tested positive for elevated testosterone levels in an out-of-competition test in 1998. He was suspended by the IAFF, but was cleared to run again five months later by a USA Track & Field doping hearing board. Mitchell's defence claimed the high testosterone levels were the result of having a lot of sex and beer the night before the test. The IAFF banned him for two years.

• In 1999 Johnson failed a drug test for the third time, this time for using hydrochlorothiazide, a banned diuretic that can be used to mask the presence of other drugs. Johnson had not competed since 1993, and had arranged the test himself as part of his efforts to be reinstated. Johnson's agent, Morris Chrobotek, said Johnson needed the drug for a painful medical condition that caused him to retain water. Johnson said he had no reason to cheat.

• In December 2003 Korean promoters apparently made a pitch to recreate the 1988 Seoul men's 100-metre final, offering $2 million in prize money. There were reports that Ben Johnson and Desai Williams would have welcomed the opportunity, but it was rejected by Carl Lewis (pursuing an acting career in films like Atomic Twister and Alien Hunter) and Linford Christie.

• In 2004 Ben Johnson publicly reacted to the new allegations against Lewis and Montgomery by supporting suspending athletes suspected of taking drugs, but who had not failed a drug test in competition. "If you're using it, then you're part of it, then you're banned," he told reporters.
Medium: Radio
Program: The Inside Track
Broadcast Date: May 4, 1997
Guest(s): Ben Johnson
Host: Robin Brown
Duration: 7:32

Last updated: February 15, 2012

Page consulted on September 10, 2014

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