Running clean

If I could do it all over again, I wouldn’t have run 9.79 and I would have been an American.

  • 25 years ago
  • June 15, 1999
6 min read
Ben Johnson competes in a 4x100 relay race. Canada's Ben Johnson competing in the 4x100m relay event at the 1992 Olympic games in Barcelona. (CP PHOTO/ COA/ Claus Andersen) Ben Johnson du Canada participe au relais 4x100 m aux Jeux olympiques de Barcelone de 1992. (PC Photo/AOC)
Ben Johnson was the fastest man alive. He ran 9.83 seconds at the 100-meter at the 1987 World Championships in Rome, then clocked a record-smashing 9.79 seconds to take gold at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul.
Then he failed his first dope test and was banned from competitive sprinting for two years.
At a 1993 tournament, doctors found excessive amounts of testosterone in his system and he was banned for life by Canadian amateur sports authorities and the International Amateur Athletic Federation.
Johnson never stopped training or fighting for the right to run again.
In April of 1999, a Canadian adjudicator ruled that Johnson was the victim of procedural errors in the handling of his lifetime ban. Athletics Canada now supports Johnson’s appeal to the IAAF.

This story was originally published in 1999.

The Olympic bribery scams are like a fraction of what’s been going on for years. If you can move an Olympic city out of bribery, it’s easy to see that corruption in the governing bodies could destroy an athlete like me. No injury can hurt more than Athletics Canada, the International Amateur Athletics Federation [IAAF], the International Olympic Committee [IOC] and the media did to me.

I’m tired of talking about this nonsense. It’s all a joke, all this testing. They know that drugs are used most of the time and athletes know the timing of tests very well.

I’m not a lab technician

Canada's Ben Johnson competes in a relay event during the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona.
Canada’s Ben Johnson competing in the 4x100m relay event at the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona. (CP PHOTO/ COA/ Claus Andersen) Ben Johnson du Canada participe au relais 4×100 m aux Jeux This story was originally published in 2006.Olympiques de Barcelone de 1992. (PC Photo/AOC)

Doctors inject athletes with all sorts of drugs. Do you think athletes truly know what they are injected with? Even if my doctor told me he was injecting me with a legal substance, would I really know? I’m not a lab technician or a doctor. I’m an athlete who trains and depends on the advice of my coach and doctor.

The [governing bodies] had to show the world that they were doing something to clean up the sport. So they picked a Canadian because Canada doesn’t spend all the money on the Olympics that the U.S. does. But most of the runners were on something in those days.

There were a lot of allegations about Carl Lewis. But we all knew they didn’t want to stop Lewis because the NBC network [which had the broadcast rights to the ’88 games] said “If you expose any American athletes with positive tests, we’re leav­ing.” It’s all political.

It’s all about money and power. After all, Canada doesn’t have the same clout as the Germans, the Americans, and the Russians. Talking about the Russians, do you believe that there wasn’t one positive test in Russia? Not one. In Seoul, they said I was the only 100-meter sprinter who tested positive. What a joke!

Professor Arnold Beckett [1988 IOC medical commissioner] said to me that the whole system is a farce and a joke, that the IAAF and IOC are the most corrupt organizations in the world. They have control and no one can criticize them. They are above the law.

Double standard

Look at the East German swimming team. They admitted using drugs while they broke all kinds of records. The doctors and coaches also admitted that they injected the swimmers with drugs – why are they allowed to keep their records and medals?

If Mr. Samaranch [IOC president] allows the East Germans to keep the records, why will they not give me my 9.83 back? My record of 9.83 in Rome in 1987 was run clean, and they took it away from me. Why are they doing this to me? Why is there one law for Ben Johnson and another for everyone else?

Dick Pound [IOC vice-president] testified the IAAF was not serious about doping control at the 1983 or 1987 World Championships. I was tested in Rome in 1987 when I broke the record of 9.83 and I came out clean. Why did they take my record away from me? I thought the tests [before the competition] were accurate. I used some medicine for injuries the way most athletes use them, but only for recovery from training. Why did they take my record away? I would like my record back.

At the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, I was sabotaged by our own Canadian organization. Dr. Andrew Pipe [chairman of the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport) kept me up until 2:30 a.m. just hours before the race. I had to give about six urine samples. All the other athletes like (Canadian sprinter) Bruny Surin, were able to leave around 4 or 5 in the after­noon and I was held back. The temperature was about 120 degrees. I was totally dehydrated. I was afraid Dr. Pipe would disqualify me before I could compete. He had all the power and control. It took me two years to train for this event and Dr. Pipe took it away from me. [Johnson finished last in his semi-final heat.]

They were not successful when they tried to ban me for life in 1992, so they had to try again in 1993. Then, the proper procedure wasn’t followed, and my lawyers were refused from presenting my case. I was clean. I don’t know why I tested positive, but I was denied a fair hearing to end my ban.

The comeback

I’m training right now and hoping to come back and run again freely. People support me. It’s only a handful of people stopping me from running.

I was never given the right to a hearing and due process the way all other athletes have been. My agent has vowed to continue this fight so that all the people who attempted to destroy me will pay.

I’ve been clean since ’88. I want to prove to the world that I can beat those guys clean. All that I hope is that they are clean like me and tested in the same way I’m tested. I hope everyone is able to compete clean, and then we’ll see who’s the fastest in the world.

We’ll go all the way to the top. I’m going to break the record, clean. I’m going to the 2000 Olympics in Australia, that’s where I’m going for my record.

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