Leave Ben Johnson saga 'in past,' says Olympian Dave Steen

Dave Steen won the bronze medal in the 1988 Olympic decathlon and says nothing has changed since then, when Ben Johnson tested positive for steroids.
Dave Steen, who won bronze in the 1988 Olympic decathlon in Seoul, is now a firefighter in Windsor, Ont. (Canadian Sports Hall of Fame)

As far as former Canadian decathlete Dave Steen is concerned, nothing has changed in 25 years.

He won the bronze medal in the 1988 Olympic decathlon. Ben Johnson won gold in the 100-metre sprint and had his medal stripped after testing positive for steroids. And Steen thinks drugs are as big a part of sports today as they were in Seoul in 25 years ago.

“As the years go on, nothing seems to change,” Steen said from inside a firehouse in Windsor, Ont., where he’s now a firefighter. “There’s still drug use in the sport.  People are still getting caught. People are always going to be looking for an edge.”

By now, everyone who can remember — and even many who can’t — know the story of Ben Johnson.  The Jamaican-born sprinter won gold and set a world record pace of 9.79 seconds in the 1988 Olympic 100m final, only to have it stripped after a positive drug test.

Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson, shown here in 1988, has become largely a poster boy for doping over the past 25 years. (Ron Kuntz/AFP/Getty Images)

“It was a great race. It was really exciting. Even in the Olympic village, I had never seen that many athletes at that level still be excited about someone else’s performance,” Steen said. “The insiders, we all know how they were getting their results. Nobody was surprised he was on steroids. We were just surprised he got caught.”

Steen just can’t figure out why people want to remember it 25 years later.

“Why do we even keep track of it anymore? It was a tragedy in the past and we should leave it there. It was a disaster for him, personally,” Steen said. “I’m just not interested in talking about this very much at all. Nothing changes and for me I want to leave it in the past.”

Scandal became 'distraction'

Steen said Johnson’s win and subsequent disqualification consumed the Olympic village.

“It became kind of strange. The first time I left, to continue to train beforehand at the practice track, I was wearing a Canadian uniform and that turned out to be a mistake. I couldn’t get from the village, and go literally 100 metres, because everyone wanted to talk to a Canadian athlete about what happened. It was very distracting,” Steen said. “I wouldn’t walk over there in a Canadian uniform. I had to take it off and grab some raggedy sweats on and put my head down and put some glasses on.”

Steen prefers to remember his 1,500m race of Sept. 29, 1988. It was the final event of the decathlon. Steen finished with 8,328 points and a bronze medal.

His wife watched from the stands as he finished.

Steen said he was having a hard time hearing her scream congratulations to him from her seat so “a group of Aussies and Brits” lifted her over the railing and down onto the track.

“It was really cool to have her on the track beside me,” he said. “I can look back and I’m happy.”

Steen called his performance “fairly well there” and, most important to him, all natural.

“I was an anti-steroid guy. It was always really important for me to see how good I could get naturally. There was a lot of people who were willing to throw out all their morals and go for broke,” he said. “I find it unfortunate that things won’t change.”


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