- 01 Oct 1988
- Seoul 1988
Johnson falls from hero to zero in 100m disgrace
The image from the 1988 Olympic Games indelibly etched into most people’s minds is the sight of Ben Johnson pointing skywards as he tore over the finishing line in the 100m final with a nonplussed Carl Lewis trailing in his wake.
It was the moment doping reared its ugly on the world stage and marked a watershed in the fight against drug cheats.
Johnson’s time of 9.79secs was a new world record and briefly stunned the crowd in the Olympic Stadium and fellow athletes alike – before it emerged that not all was what it seemed.
It was disclosed by his coach Charlie Francis at the Rubin Commission the following year that Johnson had been taking performance-enhancing steroids since 1981, three years before he burst into the global conscience by winning bronze in the 100m at Los Angeles, won by Lewis.
Johnson narrowed the gap over his great rival in the following years and as the pair prepared for the 1987 world championships in Rome, Johnson beat the American several times to become the sport’s pre-eminent sprinter.
Yet Lewis already had his doubts. Refusing to name names he hinted rivals were using drugs to cheat the system.
Then came Rome, when Johnson, propelled by an astonishing start and phenomenal leg speed, won gold in a new world record time of 9.83secs.
Johnson rubbished Lewis’s suggestions.
When 1988 arrived Johnson was the favourite but a hamstring injury at the start of the year rocked his preparations and Lewis was by far the more impressive qualifier for the Seoul final.
Johnson even qualified for one round as a fastest loser after a decision to ease up near the line saw him finish third.
The final arrived and the world’s eyes were on 100m of running track in Seoul’s glistening Olympic Stadium.
Johnson’s trademark electrifying start gave him an early lead and his position was never threatened. In fact Lewis, whose second 50m was generally recognised as the best, made few in-roads into the Canadian’s lead in the closing stages.
The crowd roared as the time of 9.79secs was displayed on the scoreboard.
On September 24th he was king of the world, three days later he was in utter disgrace.
The IOC’s drug testers encountered a sample that tested positive for steroids, and when the sample and athlete’s number were matched up, Johnson’s name emerged as the guilty party.
A piece of graffiti in the Olympic village encapsulated the story: “Hero to zero in 9.79 secs.”
The IOC immediately released a statement saying Johnson had been disqualified from the Games and his gold medal had been withdrawn. Lewis was awarded the gold, thereby becoming the first man to retain the blue riband title.
Johnson’s story and life began to unravel.