Former sprint coach Francis dies of cancer
Charlie Francis, the one-time coach of disgraced Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson, died Wednesday of cancer at Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto at age 61.
Francis turned Johnson into the world's fastest man with his 9.79-second performance in the 100 metres at the 1988 Seoul Olympics.
Johnson later forfeited his world records and gold medal after testing positive for the steroid stanozolol.
Soon after the sprinter's fall from grace, the Canadian government established 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.
It quickly became known as the Dubin Inquiry, where Francis testified in 1989 that Johnson was only one of many Canadian athletes taking banned substances.
"I think he was stuck in the same situation as I would be stuck in," Francis testified. "He could decide either he wanted to participate at the highest levels in sport or not. If he wanted to compete, it's pretty clear that steroids are worth approximately a metre at the highest levels of sport.
"And he could decide to set up his starting blocks at the same line as all the other competitors in the international competition or set them a metre behind them all. And obviously that would be an unacceptable situation for a top-level athlete."
Athletics Canada barred Francis for life more than 15 years ago. He also coached several other Canadian Olympic track stars, including Desai Williams, Mark McKoy and Angella Issajenko.
"The only way to go back into [track] is to sort of act like, 'Oh, I was wrong. Drugs aren't necessary. Gee kids,'" Francis told CBC Radio's The Inside Track during a 1990 interview. "And adopt the party line and go through some miraculous Saul-like conversion and come back out and toe the party line, and I’m not prepared to do that."
While Francis was banned from coaching in Canada, he worked with American sprinters Tim Montgomery and Marion Jones in 2003.
Johnson was 15 when Francis began coaching him at the Scarborough Optimists track and field club.
Francis was himself a champion sprinter for Canada in the early 1970s and reached the second round of the 100 metres at the 1972 Olympics in Munich. Considered a genius by some, Francis was the author of two books on sprinting — Speed Trap and Training for Speed — and operated a website dedicated to sprint training.
He is survived by his wife, former Olympic hurdler Ange Coon, and a son, James.