Sunday 19 November 2017

Infamous day when sprinter Johnson ran into trouble

There were few days like it in the history of the Olympic Games, apart from the time the Israeli athletes were executed during the 1972 Games in Munich.

The Olympics are best remembered for performances in the competitive arena and that September day in Seoul in 1988 has to rank as one of the most exciting in the history of the Games.

The performance from the black Canadian sprinter, Ben Johnson, lit up all around him with a display of such speed in the 100m final that it almost baffled observers and left palpable excitement running through the 100,000 crowd.

Johnson's performance was simply stunning as he flashed across the line in 9.79 seconds to set a new world record in defeating the reigning champion, the American Carl Lewis -- who was a well-beaten second in 9.92 seconds.

It was not so much the winning time that captivated the public, but the power and speed Johnson was able to generate, which propelled him down the track, leaving a runner such as Lewis trailing hopelessly in his wake and making his opponents look so second-rate.

Nobody but nobody dared to think that this whole wild party would be spoilt by illegal drug taking and abuse of performance-enhancing stimulants, which would unfold within 36 hours, in what became the biggest disgrace in the history of athletics.

In the last few hours before the 100m final, the tension became nerve-wracking. I will never forget the excitement as the runners took to their blocks and how Johnson just seemed to explode out of them and tear down the track as if propelled by a rocket.

Excitement raced through the stands as everybody realised he had just smashed the world record.

After accepting the accolades, Johnson was then escorted into the doping control area.

Within 24 hours, it was discovered that one of the samples contained steroids and, the following day, a letter was sent to the head of the Canadian team, informing him of the development.

At a special press conference the following day, it was announced that Johnson had been put on a plane back to Canada -- his great dream and achievements in shatters for evermore.

Tom O'Riordan

Irish Independent Supplement

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