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Ben Johnson becomes Canada’s golden hero at Seoul Olympics

The Story

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 marvellous evening for Canada," Mulroney says in the televised conversation.

Medium: Television
Program: The National
Broadcast Date: Sept. 24, 1988
Guest(s): Ben Johnson, Brian Mulroney
Host: Knowlton Nash
Interviewer: Don Wittman
Duration: 5:07

Did You know?

• In Seoul, Ben Johnson once again beat archrival Carl Lewis, who finished second with a time of 9.92 seconds. Linford Christie of Great Britain finished third at 9.97 seconds. Fellow Canadian Desai Williams finished seventh at 10.11 seconds.
• It took Johnson almost an hour to give a post-race urine sample. During that time, he drank ten cans of low-alcohol beer.

• Johnson's victory -- Canada's first gold medal of the Games -- provided an incredible lift for the Canadian athletes in Seoul, many of whom came to watch him race. Coach Charlie Francis nearly missed the race because he couldn't find a place to sit. Johnson's mother was there, but closed her eyes and prayed for the whole race.

• CBC Radio sportscaster Ron Wilson described local reaction, saying those who spoke no English would see Wilson's maple leaf, run up to him and say simply, "Ben Johnson!" (Or, in one case, "John Benson!")
• In this clip we hear Prime Minister Brian Mulroney congratulating Ben Johnson by telephone. But sportscaster Wilson says one foreign journalist inquired whether Margaret Trudeau was still prime minister of Canada.

• After Johnson tested positive for steroids, Wilson was on the air every hour for 26 hours. He said he believed Johnson and other Francis-coached athletes had been using steroids, and his first thought was, "they finally caught him."
• The following night, CBC Television's The National recorded 3.4 million viewers -- more than ever before.

• After the announcement of Johnson's drug test failure, the entire Canadian track team held a despondent, impromptu meeting. They decided as a group to immediately submit to drug tests in order to clear Canada's name.
• One immediate problem was how to field a men's 4x100m relay team after the departures of both Ben Johnson and hurdler Mark McKoy. After Johnson's failed test, McKoy immediately left Seoul without competing in the relay as scheduled.

• An improvised men's 4x100m relay team of Desai Williams, Atlee Mahorn, Cyprian Enweani and Brian Morrison finished seventh.
• At the Dubin Inquiry, McKoy admitted to steroid use and was suspended for two years. He eventually came back to win the 110-metre hurdles event at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.


Running Off Track: The Ben Johnson Story more