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Ben Johnson: Politicians lament national embarrassment

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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Ben Johnson's resounding victory in the 100 metres at the 1988 Seoul Games sparks a wild celebration from Victoria to St. John's. In Ottawa, Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney watches Johnson set a new world record (9.79 seconds) then congratulates the sprinter over the phone. "It's a marvelous evening for Canada," Mulroney gushes in the televised conversation.

But soon, word spreads about Johnson's failed drug test. Federal Sports Minister Jean Charest addresses a press conference and admits that he had heard rumours of Johnson's drug use months ago. "I reacted as any reasonable person would do," he says, explaining that he couldn't launch an investigation based on rumour.
• Johnson was stripped of his gold medal and his 1987 world record.
• When Canadian officials received word of Johnson's positive test he was rushed out of the Olympic village and checked into a Seoul hotel under a pseudonym. Shortly after, he boarded a plane for New York in the early morning.
Medium: Television
Program: The Journal
Broadcast Date: Sept. 26, 1988
Guest(s): Jean Charest, Robert Kaplan, Brian Mulroney
Host: Peter Mansbridge
Reporter: Wendy Mesley
Duration: 1:38

Last updated: April 20, 2012

Page consulted on September 10, 2014

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