Disgraced Johnson no longer running from doping past

Wed Sep 25, 2013 10:37am EDT
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By Steve Keating

TORONTO (Reuters) - For 10 awe-inspiring seconds on September 24, 1988, Canadians held their breath then exhaled and exploded in the type of wild chest-thumping celebrations usually reserved for the hockey-mad nation's greatest victories on the ice.

That evening Canadians from Newfoundland to Victoria had stopped to watch as Ben Johnson rocketed across the finish line, right hand thrust triumphantly into the Seoul sky, to claim the crown of world's fastest man as he blazed to an Olympic 100 metres gold medal in a stunning 9.79 seconds.

Photographs of the magical moment bear witness to the pure joy attached to an athletic achievement that had pushed the boundaries of human limitations to new frontiers.

A quarter of a century later, however, the grim image that lingers is not one of amazement but of crushing, drug-fuelled betrayal.

Johnson is now a fallen hero at the centre of a cautionary tale about the evils of doping rather than the protagonist of an uplifting story of a shy immigrant with a nervous stutter who shot to glory, fame and fortune.

The morning after the race, Canadians continued to bask in the brilliance of Johnson's Olympic medal with the country's newspapers proclaiming the moment 'Pure Gold'.

'Big Ben' was athletic royalty, the world sprint king and a great Canadian, held up as a symbol of Canada's sporting ambition.

Three days later, in a fall from grace as breathtaking as his rise to superstardom, the pride of Canada had become 'Jamaican-born' Ben Johnson, another country's shame, stripped of his Olympic medal after testing positive for the steroid stanozolol.   Continued...

Sprinter Ben Johnson of Canada runs next to a scroll petition laid out on the track at the Seoul Olympic Stadium in Seoul September 24, 2013. REUTERS/Lee Jae-Won