Johnson drugs bust changed view of sport

Thu Sep 25, 2008 9:14pm EDT
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By John Mehaffey

LONDON (Reuters) - Twenty years divide two astonishing Olympic 100 meters finals where the world record was not merely broken but shattered.

At the 1988 Seoul Games muscular Ben Johnson exploded from the blocks to cross the line in 9.79 seconds, four hundredths of a second faster than his own world mark. This year the elongated Usain Bolt clocked 9.69 seconds in Beijing, bettering his old record by three hundredths of a second.

Both men, Jamaican-born although Johnson ran for Canada, slowed up dramatically in the final 10 meters with their rivals trailing in their wake.

The first race resulted in the biggest drugs scandal to hit the summer Games when Johnson tested positive for the steroid stanozolol. The sport of track and field, and in particular the 100 meters, has struggled for credibility since.

Just how hard a struggle this has been was underlined in a Sports Illustrated interview this month with Carl Lewis, a nine-times Olympic gold medalist who won one of his titles after Johnson was disqualified.

Asked to comment on Bolt's astonishing run, Lewis replied: "I'm still working with the fact that he dropped from 10-flat to 9.6 in one year. I think there are some issues...Countries like Jamaica do not have a random (dope control) program, so they can go months without being tested. I'm not saying anyone is on anything but everyone needs to be on a level playing field."

As Lewis then pointed out, six men have broken 9.80 seconds. Three (Johnson and Americans Tim Montgomery and Justin Gatlin) subsequently served drugs bans.

In 1987 Lewis lost to Johnson at the Rome world championships, a result which would have seemed inconceivable three years earlier when the American ruled supreme at the Los Angeles Olympics. Lewis was not happy, muttering that there was something strange in the air.   Continued...

<p>Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson wins the gold medal in the 100m sprint in Seoul in this September 1988 file photo. REUTERS/Gary Hershorn</p>