Reporter recalls sleepless night of Johnson's disgrace

Mon Sep 23, 2013 10:39am EDT
 
Email This Article |
Share This Article
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • Twitter
| Print This Article | Single Page
[-] Text [+]

By Mike Collett

LONDON (Reuters) - Covering sport in 55 countries over the last 40 years I have seen the greats reach the stars and I have seen the stars fall from the heights. One moment stands out from the rest: watching Ben Johnson run in Seoul on September 24, 1988.

The most controlled explosion of disciplined sporting power I have ever witnessed at close quarters lasted all of 9.79 seconds over 100 meters in the men's Olympic final when Johnson destroyed the field - and most emphatically Carl Lewis - to win the Olympic gold medal.

My seat was close to the finish line and the sheer size of Johnson appeared to shut out almost everything else from view. The man was enormous. His muscles had muscles. It was as if a sleek mahogany wardrobe had streaked down the track to victory.

Three days after that sunny Saturday afternoon, what many already suspected came to light: Ben Johnson was a drugs cheat. His awesome performance in a world-record time on that track really did happen, but it was a fraud.

The biggest sports story of the 20th century came to light in the early hours of a South Korean Tuesday, September 27, 1988, when many of the reporters covering the athletics at the Olympics were either asleep or in the bars and clubs of Itaewon, Seoul's lively entertainment district.

After weeks of pre-Olympic preparation and non-stop work since the Games had begun more than a week earlier, the Tuesday was a rest day with no scheduled athletics so most of us were having a rare night off.

None of us imagined we would not see our beds again for the best part of 24 hours as September 27 turned into one of the most dramatic days in sport and one of the most infamous in the history of the Olympic Games.

A week earlier, a colleague and myself had discovered where Johnson was secretly putting the final touches to his training at an anonymous little track in the vast hinterland of Seoul.   Continued...

 
Ben Johnson of Canada (R), wearing his gold medal, shakes hands with silver medalist Carl Lewis of the U.S. after winning the men's 100 meters sprint final at the Olympics in Seoul September 24, 1988. REUTERS/Gary Hershorn