THE OLYMPICS

THE ADVISERS AROUND BEN

GROOMING FOR THE GLORY IN SEOUL

D’ARCY JENISH October 10 1988
THE OLYMPICS

THE ADVISERS AROUND BEN

GROOMING FOR THE GLORY IN SEOUL

D’ARCY JENISH October 10 1988

THE ADVISERS AROUND BEN

GROOMING FOR THE GLORY IN SEOUL

Among his fellow islanders, George Mario Astaphan is a well-liked, widely respected family doctor nicknamed “Jamie.” A resident of the tiny Caribbean island of St. Christopher and Nevis, commonly known as St. Kitts, Astaphan operates a practice in a modest, two-storey wooden building with a faded pink facade and tin roof. After work, he frequently stops for a beer at J.D.’s Bar, a 30-second walk from his office in central Basseterre, the island’s capital—population 18,000— and only city. Last week, Astaphan landed at the centre of an international scandal after his most famous patient—Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson—was expelled from the Summer Olympics in Seoul and stripped of a gold medal for using anabolic steroids. Astaphan adamantly denied that he administered the banned drugs, and his fellow islanders staunchly defended him. Lawyer and politician Lee Moore, whose office is right across the street from Astaphan’s, told Maclean’s:

“I would be flabbergasted if Jamie gave steroids to Ben. I can’t believe it.”

As the scandal unfolded throughout the week, every member of Johnson’s entourage came under intense scrutiny. In an interview last week with Maclean ’s in Toronto, Astaphan flatly denied the allegations against him, Johnson and the rest of the group. But Charlie Francis, the sprinter’s coach of more than 11 years, remained in seclusion after returning to Toronto last week.

Maclean’s has learned that prior to the Olympics, Francis was offered a $3-million, six-year contract to become head coach of a national track team in Europe, an offer that may be in jeopardy due to the scandal. And Johnson’s U.S. business agent, Larry Heidebrecht of Williamsburg, Va., also stands to incur major losses. By the end of the week, it appeared that even Johnson’s highly regarded physiotherapist, Waldemar Matuszewski,

could incur financial losses because of the scandal. Earlier this year, Maclean’s has learned, Matuszewski was offered an annual salary of $244,000, a house and a car to join an Italian track team.

Of all the people around the sprinter, Astaphan attracted most of the attention and suspicion last week. A 42-year-old native of St. Kitts, he graduated from the University of Toronto medical school in June, 1971. He maintained a family practice in Toronto until 1986, when he returned to his island home. Astaphan still owns a condominium apartment in suburban Toronto, but his principal residence is in Basseterre. He lives there with his wife and three young children in a one-storey cement-block house located on a half-acre lot.

While Astaphan was on the hot seat in Toronto last week, he took an unexpected call—from U.S. Democrat Jesse Jackson.

“I’ve never been so surprised in all my life,” Astaphan told Maclean’s. “He was most sympathetic.” Staffers, confirming that Jackson made the call, provided no further details about Jackson’s thinking on the issue.

In St. Kitts, Astaphan’s acquaintances also were ardently defending his reputation. Former Toronto resident Helen Kidd, who now runs a management consultant business for hotels and resorts in Basseterre, said that she had never heard “even a whisper or a rumor that he was involved in giving steroids to athletes.” Taxi driver Lester Gillard said, “We see everyone coming into the island, and I would know if professional athletes were coming here I to see Dr. Astaphan.” Johnt; son did spend two weeks on z St. Kitts last May, recovery. ing from a hamstring injury.

1 While Johnson was there, he

2 visited schools and offered basic instructions in sprinting, signed autographs and looked around for property to purchase.

According to several sources, Astaphan has served as Johnson’s personal physician for close to 10 years. From that relationship, the doctor developed a loyal following at the Mazda Optimist Track and Field Club—an athletic club sponsored by the auto manufacturer—where Francis coaches and Johnson trains. Ross Earl, a Scarborough, Ont., teacher and founder of the club, maintained that Astaphan has an unusual ability to diagnose sports injuries. Volunteer coach George van Zeyl added that because the doctor is a native of the West Indies, he is very knowledgeable about medi-

cal and dietary problems peculiar to residents of that region. Van Zeyl said that he has seen Astaphan successfully treat Mazda Optimist athletes of West Indian origin who were suffering from skin ailments, muscle spasms and nausea that were confounding other doctors who misdiagnosed the problems. Said van Zeyl:

“I recommended him to a number of other coaches.”

The second key member of the sprinter’s inner circle is coach Francis, who helped transform Johnson from a skinny 14-year-old student into the world’s fastest man.

A former world-class sprinter who competed in the 1972 Olympics, the 39-yearold Francis is also credited with making the Mazda Optimists the most successful track club in Canada. Among those who train under Francis are Olympic sprinters Angella Issajenko and Desai Williams and hurdler Mark

McKoy. At the same time, -

Francis started a parallel organization in 1980 called the National Sprint Centre for other elite runners. It is based at Toronto’s York University and is funded jointly by private sponsors, the Canadian Track and Field

Association (CTFA) and the Ontario Track and Field Association (OTFA).

But despite his success, Francis has angered and alienated numerous Canadian track

officials. A senior OTFA employee, who asked to remain anonymous, said that at a recent meeting of the sprint centre’s management committee, Francis boasted about his ability to raise sponsorship money. Yet he refused

to tell the CTFA—his employer—how much he had raised. Francis also angered track officials by publicly criticizing other athletes and their training programs. Said Denis Landry, former CTFA manager of coaching development: “We were always berated because we were not keeping our employee under control.”

Yet Francis has earned widespread respect and admiration among other track coaches and athletes. Even Landry acknowledges that Francis has selflessly devoted 10 years of his life to developing world-class Canadian sprinters and spent his own money to keep the pro~ grams afloat when neces| sary. Former sprinter David z McKnight, 29, who trained x under Francis for 14 years, ï said: “When we started, he I paid our bus fares to get to ° the track. He spent thousands and thousands of dol-

lars on us.”

Others add that, despite the influx of sponsorship money and Johnson’s enormous endorsement contracts, Francis continues to live modestly in a three-bedroom apartment less than one kilometre from York’s track

facilities. He collects late-19th-century French provincial furniture, one of his few expensive pursuits, and is engaged to Angela Coon, a 21-year-old York sociology student and hurdler. Johnson gave his coach a 1987 Mazda RX-7 convertible last fall after setting the 100-m world record in Rome, but Francis gave the car to his fiancée. At the same time, according to York University track coach Susan Summers, Johnson also gave Francis $20,000 cash in U.S. currency as a token of his appreciation.

While Johnson was signing lucrative en-

dorsement contracts that gave him an estimated 1987 income of $1 million, Francis was earning between $42,000 and $45,000 annually and had not received a raise from the CTFA in three years, one assistant coach at the Mazda Optimist club told Maclean’s. Yet, both Summers and the Mazda assistant coach said that earlier this year Francis told them he was offered a six-year, $3-million contract to become a national-team head coach after the Seoul Olympics. But Francis did not reveal which country had made the offer.

And another member of the Johnson entourage—physiotherapist Matuszewski—has also received lucrative offers from abroad. Matuszewski, a native of Poland who lives in Ottawa, joined the Mazda Optimists about three years ago. Sprinter Joshua Jonker, a 20-year-old York law student, said that Johnson once gave Matuszewski a $10,000 tip because his massages had kept the sprinter injury-free and allowed him to handle two, as opposed to the normal one, weight-training sessions daily. Jonker also said that American track stars have offered Matuszewski as much as $5,000 for pre-race massages.

Although Matuszewski is very secretive about his techniques, they unquestionably work, said Summers. She pointed out that some of her own athletes have injured themselves during workouts and had to be carried from the field. But after a half-hour with Matuszewski, they came back to finish training. Said Summers: “Everybody is after him.” Indeed, a delegation of Italian track officials and wealthy businessmen approached Matuszewski in Toronto three times last winter with a lucrative offer to ply his trade on their athletes. According to one Mazda coach, Matuszewski turned them down because he was only eight weeks away from obtaining Canadian citizenship.

The most recent addition to Johnson’s inner circle is Heidebrecht, his 39-year-old U.S. business agent. In early 1986, Heidebrecht and several partners formed a company in Williamsburg called the Heritage Group to represent Johnson and other athletes. After Johnson set the world record in August, 1987, Heidebrecht broke with Heritage Group and since then has been the sprinter’s sole international agent.

The Johnson scandal is the second major sports controversy in which Heidebrecht has been involved. From 1982 to 1984, Heidebrecht was the cross-country and track coach for the University of Texas at El Paso, but he resigned after the El Paso Herald Post revealed that he had been demanding appearance fees from track-meet promoters on behalf of his athletes. A subsequent investigation by the National Collegiate Athletic Association revealed that more than 100 violations had occurred, and the university recovered $30,000 from Heidebrecht.

Indeed, with major questions about the scandal unresolved, an uncertain future awaited every member of the Johnson entourage. If a federal inquiry is launched, all four major players—Astaphan, Francis, Matuszewski and Heidebrecht—will inevitably be called to testify. Whether they can vindicate themselves and their protégé Johnson remains to be seen. But it seemed clear last week that the group chemistry that had produced a world champion and a potential windfall had vanished forever.

WILLIAM LOWTHER

JOHN BIERMAN

NORA UNDERWOOD

D’ARCY JENISH with WILLIAM LOWTHER in St. Kitts and JOHN BIERMAN and NORA UNDERWOOD in Toronto