Ben Johnson, fast and cheater: the fastest man in the world was left with nothing – Ovation – 07/22/2020

The story of Ben Johnson It is that of an athlete who captured the admiration of the world for nine seconds 79 hundredths, but almost as quickly that fame turned into dishonor.

What is 9.79 seconds? About the time it takes to read the previous paragraph. During that time Johnson ran the 100 meters of the Olympic gamess de Seoul 1988. He won the triumph, the gold medal and the glory of the shortest and most celebrated event in athletics. The next day, his doping control came back positive and everything fell apart.

Present in modern Olympic history since the first edition in 1896, the 100 meter sprint awards the fastest man in the world (and since Amsterdam 1928 to the fastest woman). The overcoming of training techniques, the use of special cleats for the start, improvements in footwear and track material, were cutting tenths of a second from the records, although for years always above 10 seconds.

But there are no limits to human progress. And in 1968, three American athletes managed to lower that barrier by one tenth. Then evolution began to be measured in hundredths. In 1983 it reached 9.93. Until Johnson appeared at the World Cup Roma 1987, with an incredible 9.83.

Everyone wondered then who was this Johnson. It was learned that Benjamin Sinclar Johnson was born in Jamaica, the cradle of great athletes, in 1961. However, until he emigrated to Canada at the age of 15, he had not approached the sport. Introverted due to his stuttering, young Ben had trouble adjusting to his new country.

Almost as an escape from these relationship difficulties, he began practicing athletics in a club in a suburb of Ontario, until he achieved enough prominence to participate in international competitions. He was even selected for the Olympic Games from Moscow 1980, but the boycott of several countries left him out.

Four years later he reached the final of the Games of Los Angeles 1984 and obtained the bronze medal: he was already among the best in his specialty, although the undisputed king was the American Carl Lewis. Little by little Johnson was getting closer to him on his marks, until in 1985 he was finally able to defeat him in a race. At the same time, the physique of the Jamaican-Canadian took on the forms of a weightlifter, with powerful muscles. The most observant also noticed his yellowish eyes, a sign that he was consuming some anabolic substance.

In Rome 1987 the rivalry between the two was extreme: the celebrated and charismatic Lewis against the surly and reserved Johnson. And Johnson astonished the world with 9.83 seconds, which lowered the record by one tenth of a hit. For Seoul 1988 the great duel was served.

It is impossible to forget what happened on September 24, 1988 in the Korean capital. It was the fastest test in history until then, but Johnson swept them all: he scored 9.79. And he even had the luxury of raising an arm in victory before crossing the finish line, which in the fast-paced world of 100 meters means wasting hundredths of a second.

After rigorous controls, it was discovered that Johnson had consumed stanozonol, a synthetic anabolic steroid that is administered to people affected by anemia and cases of extreme weakness but increases muscle mass in athletes, although with possible serious side effects. He was disqualified, his gold medal was taken away and he was suspended for two years. In addition, it lost most of its sponsors. Had to return the Ferrari Testarossa which had been bought with the registration BEN 983, a souvenir of its brand from Rome.

How dumb was it to get high for an olympic competition? He is said to have relied on a method that his doctor, Jamie Astaphan, had developed to mask stanozonol, but did not count on the new International Olympic Committee testing equipment to be able to beat those tricks.

He returned in 1991, in time to qualify for the Olympic Games in Barcelona 1992. There, however, he did not pass the semi-final of the 100 meters. In January 1993 he won a 50 meter event in Grenoble and came very close to the world record. They gave him an anti-doping control and he tested positive again, now for testosterone. He was suspended in perpetuity and all of his world records were erased from the records.

Despite everything, he had a third chance. A Canadian court ruled in 1999 that the sanction had flaws in form, which is why it lifted the suspension, although only with effect in his country. He did new runs, without even approaching his old records, until he tested positive again. Now yes, it was the end.

Outside of competition, Johnson did everything to earn a living. Ran challenges against horses and cars. Advertised energy drinks. Launched a clothing line. He became a coach of Diego Maradona and of a footballer son of Muammar Gaddafi, when his father was lord and master of Libya (in both cases they once tested positive for doping).

While working with Gaddafi Jr., his wallet with several thousand dollars was stolen in Rome. He ran to the thieves but could not reach them, a paradox for who had been the fastest man in the world.

In recent times he has been training American football players.

When the Seoul 88 race was history, it was found that six of the eight athletes had used prohibited substances that day, except Lewis and his compatriot from the United States. Calvin Smith.

In 2003, Wade Exum, between 1991 and 2000 director of the drug control department of the United States Olympic Committee, gave the magazine Sports Illustrated 30,000 pages of organization reports. And there it was that in the preparatory tests for Seoul, Lewis tested positive three times, but that those results were hidden to allow his presence in the Games. It is clear that Ben Johnson was never innocent, but it seems that he was not the only culprit either.

Today the world record for the 100 meter sprint belongs to another Jamaican, Usain Bolt, with 9.58 seconds. There were no doping accusations against him. And although he lost one of his medals in the Olympic Games of Beijing 2008It was because of one of his colleagues at the 4×100 post.