Sunday, January 6, 2013

Why Ben Johnson got the shaft at the 1988 Olympics

But [Ben] Johnson’s vilification detracted from — perhaps even camouflaged — the wider story, and the bigger scandal. He was not the only cheat in Seoul. Six of the eight finalists from the men’s 100m would eventually be implicated in doping scandals. They included [Carl] Lewis, who tested positive for stimulants at the US Olympic trials. He was exonerated — as were many others in the 1980s — by the US Olympic Committee.

There remains another mystery about what happened in Seoul. That Johnson cheated is not in question — he later admitted he had used steroids for seven years. But the fact that Johnson had been using drugs, and passing tests, for so many years raises another question. Why was he caught in Seoul?

He maintains to this day that he was sabotaged; that a ‘mystery man’ sat beside him in the anti-doping room in Seoul; that this man was connected to the Lewis camp; and that he spiked his drink.

It sounds unlikely. And yet, when I interviewed Joe Douglas, Lewis’s old manager, he admitted he did indeed arrange for this mystery man to sit with Johnson in the anti-doping room. ‘We wanted to make sure that he didn’t take . . . any . . . masking agents,’ Douglas told me. ‘That everything was done legal and fair. That he was gonna be tested, etc.’

How did Douglas manage to plant this man in the supposedly secure anti-doping room? ‘I played some games,’ he smiled.

I tracked down, and spoke to, the mystery man. He is Andre Jackson, a diamond executive in Angola who is also chairman of the African Diamond Council and African Diamond Producers Association. I invited him to set the record straight. He could state, once and for all, that Johnson’s allegation that he spiked his drink is untrue.

‘Of course I can say I didn’t,’ he replied. ‘But I can also say I did, too. What’s the benefit?’
--Richard Moore, Daily Mail, on a story I was led to by a great 30 for 30 ESPN documentary, "9.79*"

What I like about 9.79* can be summed up by a quote from The Wire: “They flipped it.” My favorite 30 for 30s have us root for the villain and hate the hero.* In this case, I felt bad for Johnson, the admitted cheater who seemed the most truthful out of all the runners interviewed.** Every other runner said they never doped but another interviewee said at least 80% of the Olympians did. With those conflicting testimonials, Johnson is the only one we can truly believe. ...

And if Johnson was the sympathetic villain, Carl Lewis gets to play the role of the hero we learn to hate. ...

Despite no real proof that Lewis had ever cheated, Gordon takes subtle digs at him throughout the film. At one point, a doctor says that athletes who are wearing braces in their adult years are almost certainly doping. Ten minutes later we catch glimpses of Lewis in interviews in the '80s, flashing those tinsel teeth.
--Will Eidam, Austin Chronicle, on the greatness of "9.79*"