SPORTS

Starting over

Ben Johnson will lose two world records

NORA UNDERWOOD September 18 1989
SPORTS

Starting over

Ben Johnson will lose two world records

NORA UNDERWOOD September 18 1989

Starting over

SPORTS

Ben Johnson will lose two world records

During the 10-month inquiry into drugs in Canadian sport, Mr. Justice Charles Dubin of the Ontario Supreme Court has heard extensive testimony about athletes’ use of performance-enhancing steroids. But the first real effect of witnesses’ disclosures in Toronto emerged only last week in Barcelona. There, after 3Vá hours of intensive debate, members of the International Amateur Athletic Federation (IAAF) decided to revoke all records set by athletes who have admitted to using such drugs, retroactive to Jan. 1,1984, from Jan. 1, 1990. And one of the athletes who will be affected by the ruling is Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson, who will be stripped of two world records. As a result, the IAAF will likely transfer the titles to two Americans: Johnson will lose his 100-m record to longtime rival Carl Lewis, and his 60-m indoor record to Lee McRae. Even before IAAF officials announced their decision last week, 27-year-old Johnson told a Milan newspaper: “Why should I always have to be the only one to pay? What about the others?”

For IAAF vice-president Arne Ljungqvist, who was in charge of the doping control centre at the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul, the ruling was a step forward in his decade-long battle against drugs in sports. But some critics expressed concern that the IAAF ruling would prevent other athletes from admitting to drug use. Others, including Johnson’s friend and business associate Kemeel Azan, added that the retroactive nature of the ruling was unfair—especially to the sprinter, who had to testify under oath at the Dubin inquiry and who admitted he had taken steroids. Said Azan: “The Canadian government had enough nerve and enough integrity to do what it did, but the federation made a mockery of it.”

When Johnson took the stand on June 12, he confessed that he had started taking anabolic steroids in 1981 on the advice of his coach, Charlie Francis. Johnson added that he had taken large doses of the drugs, which build muscle bulk and cut down on recovery time after strenuous exercise or competition, to prepare for the world championships in 1987. At the 1988 Olympics, International Olympic Committee officials stripped Johnson of his gold medal for the 100 m—passing it on to second-place Lewis—after finding traces of the steroid stanozolol in his urine.

But Johnson still retained the world record for 100 m, with his time of 9.83 seconds at the 1987 world track-and-field championships in Rome. With that mark now erased, however,

Lewis’s time of 9.92 seconds at Seoul will stand as the world’s best. Earlier in 1987, Johnson set the 60-m indoor best at the world championships in Indianapolis with 6.41 seconds. McRae will now hold the record, for his

time of 6.5 seconds, which he set at the same event.

Some critics, including Edward Futerman, Johnson’s lawyer throughout the Dubin inquiry, said that the ruling unfairly singled out Canada. Said Futerman: “It has created a dilemma where athletes in other countries will not come forward because they know the repercussions. They put a muzzle on cleaning up an international problem.” Added Canadian runner Angella Issajenko, who holds the world record for the 50-m indoor sprint: “If [the IAAF] had done this before, everyone would have gone before the Dubin inquiry and lied.

No one is going to admit anything now.” Issajenko and Canadian Mark McKoy, who holds the world best for 50-m and 60-m indoor hurdles, testified that they have used steroids and both will likely lose their records. For his part, Dubin said in a statement last week that he would reserve comment on the IAAF ruling until he had concluded his inquiry. But he said in March that he disapproved of punishing athletes who had admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs.

Following their decision last week, IAAF delegates discussed other strategies for dealing with drug use in sports. To Ljungqvist’s apparent delight, the congress approved a plan to implement a squad of doping control officials who could fly to any country and conduct surprise tests—a concept that Ljungqvist has been promoting since 1981. Said Ljungqvist: “Now, very much due to the case of Ben Johnson, which has jeopardized the credibility of sport, it has been possible to have this breakthrough.”

Others, including Issajenko, agreed that random, out-of-competition testing was the only effective way to try to eradicate drugs. “I think the Ben Johnson incident shows we do not have effective testing,” said American hurdler Edwin Moses, a member of an advisory council to the IAAF and the International Olympic Committee. “I think it infringes on my rights not being tested. We have to get serious with this drug problem.” For his part, IAAF president Primo Nebiolo last week put forward the idea of setting up an inquiry into punishment for trainers, agents and coaches who provide athletes with drugs. “Be sure that we will do some¡2 thing,” said Nebiolo. “Be sure.” Still, Ljungqvist said 5 that the solution to the drug I problem required a change of g attitude. “If we consider and 8 recognize results achieved by 5 confessed drug-takers,” he declared, “we can never change that attitude.”

The events of the past year already appear to have changed Johnson's attitude. Said Futerman: “Ben is at the point now that he knows the important thing is the future, not the past. Now, he has an opportunity to make a fresh start.” In June, at the Dubin inquiry, Johnson testified: “If I get a chance to compete again, I want to say that drugs didn’t make me run fast. I could run without drugs. I could beat anybody in the world if I get the chance.” That now remains to be proven.

NORA UNDERWOOD

ANTONY ANDERSON