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PROTRACK » GENERAL » The Dirtiest Race in History

The Dirtiest Race in History

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1The Dirtiest Race in History Empty The Dirtiest Race in History on Sat Jul 07, 2012 8:36 am



Seoul searching

The 100 metres final in Seoul in 1988 has gone down in Olympics history as one of those 'where were you' events but the 9.79 seconds it took Ben Johnson to blow away the field was just the start of the story. Richard Moore talks about his new book which examines the controversy

Richard Moore
June 7 2012

It is the Olympics' 'JFK moment'. And it is burned into the memory of all those who witnessed an astonishing 9.79 seconds, when Ben Johnson ran the fastest 100 metres in history to hammer his bitter rival, Carl Lewis, at the 1988 Seoul Olympics.

But that wasn't the end of it. In many ways, it was only the beginning.

The bombshell exploded two days later. And this was the real JFK moment -- one that any fan of sport old enough to remember the 1988 Olympics will remember.

After his victory, Ben Johnson tested positive for an anabolic steroid, stanozolol.

The news caused a sensation -- the Canadian was far and away the biggest name ever to be caught. And he had been caught at the Olympic Games, after its most high profile event, which also happened to be the most incredible 100m final ever seen.

Johnson was disqualified, stripped of his gold medal, and left Seoul in disgrace. Twenty-four years later, he remains the ultimate sporting pariah, his name still regularly prefixed with "disgraced."

But there is an enduring and still unsovled mystery about the great 100m confrontation between Johnson and Lewis in Seoul, and the scandal that followed..

It is a mystery I was keen to explore in my new book - The Dirtiest Race in History - because it turned out that Johnson may not have been the only athlete using drugs in the eight-man field. Six of the eight have subsequently had their reputations tarnished through their links to doping - including Lewis.

The enduring saga revolves largely around a "mystery man" who appeared in the anti-doping room of the Olympic stadium, and handed Johnson beer as he waited for his bladder to fill. It turned out the mystery man was a friend of Lewis.

Lewis revealed as much in his 1990 autobiography. But what has never been explained is how, and why, the mystery man was in the anti-doping room in the first place.

In the course of my research I discovered why he was there -- at least according to Lewis's old manager, Joe Douglas. And I also tracked down and spoke to the mystery man himself. He now runs a diamond mine in Angola.


There remain so many other fascinating aspects to the "dirtiest race in history" -- which some insist should instead be called "the greatest race in history" (and I can understand why).

It came during the halcyon days of athletics, which - thanks to Sebastian Coe, Steve Ovett, Steve Cram, Daley Thompson and so many others - vied with football for media coverage in the UK. The sport was enormous. It is hard to comprehend now, but the 1987 world athletics championships in Rome seemed as big as the previous year's football World Cup in Mexico.

It was in Rome that the Lewis-Johnson rivalry really came to the boil. It had been simmering since Johnson, who won bronze behind Lewis at the LA Olympics in 1984, first beat the American superstar in 1985.

Before then, Lewis had been untouchable - he was the King of the Track: Michael Jackson in spikes. Johnson was his opposite in every way. Where Lewis was lean, tall and graceful, Johnson was compact, muscular, and all brute force: the Incredible Hulk in spikes.

This, and the fact that they hated each other, meant their rivalry was utterly compelling.

The balance between the two rivals tilted over the next two seasons, and in Rome, Johnson settled any remaining arguments about who was the fastest, exploding out the blocks to leave Lewis for dead and set a new world record of 9.83.

It set up their confrontation in Seoul. The men's 100 metres was the most anticipated event of the Games -- and perhaps in the history of the Olympics. Then, remarkably, it didn't just live up to its pre-race hype - it surpassed it.

There is a parallel with the London Olympics, with the men's 100 metres once again the event that is generating most hype and excitement. And in Usain Bolt, it has the expected star of the Games. But in Seoul there was not just one superstar, there were two, each as sensational as Bolt.

Quite apart from the controversy that followed, and Johnson's later admission that he had been using steroids for seven years, the race itself still thrills, from Johnson's unbelievable start, to Lewis's repeated glances across at his rival, each one betraying his anguish.

As much as I wanted to explore the mystery, I wanted to recreate the race in my book, and, to this end, I went to Toronto to interview Johnson, to Florida to interview the untainted Calvin Smith, who finished fourth but considers himself the "moral winner," to Santa Monica to see Lewis's old manager and his club, and to Los Angeles to interview the "father of drug-testing in sports", Don Catlin. And I met Lewis in a shop on Oxford Street, London.

"The Ben thing," said Lewis, referring to his old rival, "everyone's like, 'You must hate him.' What, are you kidding me? That guy made me so much money it's ridiculous!"

The Dirtiest Race in History: Ben Johnson, Carl Lewis and the 1988 Olympic 100m Final, by Richard Moore, is published by Wisden Sports.

"Let's Go While We're Young"

2The Dirtiest Race in History Empty Re: The Dirtiest Race in History on Sat Jul 07, 2012 8:46 am



Race into infamy: the day Johnson finished top of the world, then turned it upside down

BY: GLENDA Korporaal
The Australian
July 07, 2012

THE men's 100m final at the Seoul Olympics in 1988 was always going to be something special.

It was a clash between bitter rivals Carl Lewis, the American sprinter who had won gold in the 100m and 200m at the Los Angeles Games in 1984 (and the 4x100m relay and the long jump), and the powerful newcomer to the scene, Canadian Ben Johnson.

But within hours the race was at the heart of the biggest drugs-in-sport scandal in history -- years before Lance Armstrong clipped his shoes into the pedals for his first Tour de France. Seasoned sportswriters gasped at the result of the race, which saw the beefed-up Johnson beating a shocked Lewis in a world record 9.79sec. Even more shocking was the news soon afterwards that Johnson had been stripped of his gold medal having testing positive for steroids, with Lewis awarded the gold in a private ceremony, Britain's Linford Christie the silver and American Calvin Smith the bronze.

A new book about one of the most famous moments in Olympic history describes it as The Dirtiest Race in History.

It is written by British sports journalist Richard Moore, who has traditionally covered cycling, particularly the Tour de France.

He told The Weekend Australian he often feels as much a crime writer as a sports journalist these days for having to write about the use of illegal drugs in sport.

In researching the events around the historic 1988 race, Moore has tracked down and interviewed as many of the players around Lewis and Johnson as he could.

At one point in the book Moore mentions the frustration that is sometimes evident at a press conference when the journalists know more than they can say.

But there is also a sense of frustration throughout the book that while Moore has carefully put together the events leading up to the great clash of 1988, he believes there was a lot more behind the scenes in the murky world of athlete drug-taking at the time.

"It was common in those days to say that the East Germans and the Russians were all on steroids," he says. "That probably was so, but make no mistake about it, the Americans were at the forefront."

He argues that both the International Olympic Committee and the International Amateur Athletic Federation (IAAF) were aware of the problem but did nothing about it.

"It raises an obvious question," he declares. "Why was the biggest fish of them all caught in Seoul?"

It was convenient for all concerned, including the sports establishment of the time, to paint Johnson as a sad, isolated figure who went down the wrong path after falling in with a questionable crowd. But Moore makes it clear he believes that doping in high-level athletics at the time was a lot more prevalent than anyone wanted to admit.

He says Australian swimmer Rob Woodhouse, who competed in Seoul, recalled the popular joke during the 1988 Games that when the words "Testing, testing" came over the public address system in the athletes' village, "the 100m sprinters couldn't be seen for dust". When the Olympic champion embarrassed the sporting world by testing positive, it was convenient for all concerned to paint Johnson as a rogue athlete.

Moore points out that the only athlete in the top five in that race who has not tested positive at some stage in their careers was Calvin Smith.

Moore spends some time with Johnson, who emerges as a sad and very flawed character, somewhat delusional.

Lewis remains a dividing figure. The IOC's Sportsman of the Century admitted to being one of the athletes to test positive to stimulants at the US Olympic trials leading up to Seoul. He should never had been allowed to run but defends himself by saying everyone else was given free passage.

Moore turns the spotlight on the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, the first ever private-sector Games, run by US businessman Peter Ueberroth.

One of the heroes of the book is American Don Catlin, who ran the drug testing laboratory during the 1984 Games.

Catlin recalls how Ueberroth, who was battling to run a cash-strapped Games in the wake of the eastern bloc boycott, did not want to know about doping regulations and saw the drug testing regime as a potential threat to the economic success of the Games.

And the up-and-coming Lewis was always going to be one of the stars of those Games.

The book recalls that 86 US athletes tested positive for banned substances before the Olympics, including 10 at the Olympic trials.

But it recalls Catlin's frustration to this day that nine positive tests from events in the final days of the 1984 Games were never identified as the IOC medical commission chief, Prince de Merode of Belgium, apparently had the paperwork which identified which tests were connected with which athletes, stolen from his safe.

By the 1988 Games, the sports world was seeing the rise of more sophisticated performance-enhancing drugs, including human growth hormone.

Moore argues that the sporting world passed up an opportunity to use the Johnson case to investigate the widespread problem of doping in sport.

The California-based Catlin remains a campaigner against drugs in sport to this day with his own not-for-profit organisation called Anti-Doping Research. Moore says Catlin believes organised crime is involved in trafficking performance-enhancing drugs.

"There are schemes out there. The rewards are so enormous that for every one of me, there are probably 50 people on the other side," Catlin says.

"Let's Go While We're Young"

3The Dirtiest Race in History Empty Re: The Dirtiest Race in History on Sat Jul 07, 2012 8:52 am


I've never felt tha Carl Lewis should have kept his 1988 100m Olympic Gold fact he should have given back to Johson.

It's evident now that Lewis and Johnson were on a level playing field in that final.

"Let's Go While We're Young"

4The Dirtiest Race in History Empty Re: The Dirtiest Race in History on Sun Jul 08, 2012 7:31 am


There is a doco on this race on Tuesday evening check you local guides Very Happy

Tuesday 10th July at 8.30 pm (60 minutes)
Channel: SBS
The 100 metre sprint final at the 1988 Seoul Olympics was the fastest and dirtiest race in history. Six of the eight runners have since tested positive for banned substances. Ben Johnson, the winner, received a career destroying ban, whilst his rival, Carl Lewis, had failed three drug tests prior to the competition, and British runner Linford Christie, who finished second, was eventually banned for a series of drug test failures. In this program, Johnson and other runners will tell their personal stories of the race, and also put into context how and why athletes become drug cheats. (From the UK) (Documentary)
Additional Info: (Class tba) (CC) - (Classification)

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