September 26, 2013
Ben Johnson: Nothing has changed in 25 years
By: Doug Smith Sports Reporter, Published on Thu Sep 26 2013I find it hard to fathom that it’s been 25 years – a quarter of a damn century – since Ben Johnson’s jaw-dropping run and stunning positive test rocked the sports world after the 100 metres at the Seoul Olympics.
But here’s a question:
Has anything really changed?
I’d suggest no.
The drugs are better, the cheaters more discreet, the testing is better, the testers are more conscientious and thorough but, really, doesn’t it feel like it’s just been one vicious circle since that fateful weekend?
I have long held that Ben was a bit of a scapegoat, he’s was silly enough to get caught and was held up as the devil of the sport when in reality, I would have bet big money that he wasn’t the only drug cheat in the race that so captured the imagination of the country and the world.
He was vilified simply because he was caught, the ensuing Dubin Inquiry was an exercise in Canadian soul-cleansing and hand-wringing we felt necessary but an exercise that turned out to be simply an inward looking recanting and explaining of what was going on around the world back in those days.
Was he wrong to take a cocktail of steroids over a number of years in pursuit of fame and fortune and a place in history? Of course he was, I can’t abide those who cheat the sport and he – and so many others – did precisely that.
It ruined track for many of us and that continues to this day. It’s hard to look at any amazing feat of speed or athleticism even now and not think about what went into the process of achieving it, it’s made us all more cynical and less trusting and, in fact, less interested.
Too bad. It truly is too bad; to this day the spectre of drugs and steroids and heavens knows what hangs over the sport, fairly or unfairly and for that we should never totally forgive the sprinters of that era.
But remember what it was like?
That race, that 9.79, was one of those moments that galvanizes a country of fans. I remember being in a packed bar that went silent around midnight that Friday night before it erupted into a huge celebration when the time was posted. It was one of those moments I don’t think you’d ever forget.
And this was even fearing what was coming. I worked at the time at the Toronto Sun and we had two of the very best Olympic sports reporters on earth on staff in Stumpy and The Pick and the best sports editor I ever worked for in Wayne Parrish and they had worked tirelessly in the months before the Seoul Olympics investigating all kinds of whispers and innuendo and I just wonder how differently things would have turned out had they been able to truly nail the story sometime before the Olympics.
That weekend represented a sea change in how we viewed one of the most famous athletes on the planet and a sport that should be so simple yet turned out to be so sneaky and corrupt and dirty that to this day, it’s seen in a different light.
But in the intervening quarter of a century, that’s about the only thing that’s changed: Our perception of the sport.
Other than that, I fear it’s same old, same old in too many regards.
Cleaner? A bit, sure. And the athletes who compete clean should be lauded and appreciated and honoured. They push themselves to incredible personal limits to achieve their goals, it’s too bad the level of cynicism exists.
And that’s Ben’s shame. http://www.thestar.com/sports/amateur/2013/09/26/ben_johnson_nothing_has_changed_in_25_years_smith.html