THE KING OF SEOUL
BEN JOHNSON SHOWS THE WORLD HIS PHENOMENAL RECORD SPEED
In the brilliant sunshine of a warm Saturday afternoon in Seoul, Ben Johnson did what no man has ever done before, and few, beyond Johnson, thought humanly possible. In a few unforgettable seconds, Johnson rede-
fined man’s ability to propel himself by the sheer power of body and will. Last week, on sport’s grandest stage, the Summer Olympics, in sport’s most elemental event, the 100-m sprint, the 26-year-old Canadian toyed with the seven fastest men the rest of the human race had to offer and became the king of Seoul. The contest won, the gold medal secure, Johnson glanced over his left shoulder at his closest rival, American Carl Lewis, raised his right
arm in a victory salute and glided over the finish line. Looking up from Lane 3, Lewis saw the clock and, like the 70,000 spectators in Olympic Stadium, he stared in disbelief. The clock read 9.79 seconds. The man who in Rome in August, 1987, became the first man ever to run 100 m in 9.83 seconds, had suddenly broken the 9.8-second barrier. Just as quickly, Ben Johnson had entered another realm.
Anticipation: The voyage to the gold medal—and a new world record—in the dash began amidst the hype of a worldwide television audience and the anticipation of athletes and spectators at the stadium. As the eight fastest men in the world limbered up, along the runway on the stadium’s east side, Hristo Markov of Bulgaria and Igor Lapchine of the Soviet Union were competing for the triplejump gold. At two pits at the south end, male
high jumpers, hoping to qualify for the following day’s finals, stretched between loping challenges to the bar. Finally, a hush descended over the crowd as the public address announcer requested “quiet at the start, please” of the men’s 100-m final. As Lewis settled into the block in Lane 3 and Johnson spread his massive arms to the width of Lane 6 to take his signature position, the calm was but faint forewarning of the fury to follow.
When the starting gun sounded, Johnson— in brilliant red shorts and singlet top—erupted from the block. In Rome, his start was timed at 0.129 second off the block. In Seoul, it was 0.123 second. In the next few moments— the stadium infield quiet, the circling pigeons ignored—the audience, like a north-south wave, rose to its feet involuntarily, perhaps hoping to see more, yet knowing it would not understand.
Accelerating: Johnson reached the 50-m mark in 5.52 seconds,
0.13 second ahead of his longtime rival Lewis. The observers in the stadium knew that Lewis, even when he lost to Johnson in Rome, was the faster man over the final 50 m of the dash. But not last Saturday. Johnson turned on what his coach, Charles Francis, calls the “second acceleration.” As the metres blurred by, Johnson at 60 m was 0.16 second ahead of Lewis.
At the 80-m mark he was 0.17 second in front. From the gun, the race was never in doubt—just as Johnson had predicted weeks earlier when he said, “When the gun go, the race be over.” As the roar from the stadium swelled with each step, Johnson—like a true Olympian—raised his right arm triumphantly.
There was nothing in the months leading up to the XXIV th Summer Olympics to guarantee that the afternoon of Sept. 24 in South Korea—the evening of Sept. 23 in North America—would become a milestone in the history of Canadian sport. After setting the world record in Rome, Johnson suffered a debilitating hamstring injury at a meet in Tokyo on May 13. Next came an embarrassing public feud over his rehabilitation with his personal coach, Francis. Then, in August, after winning the Canadian trials with a time of 9.90, Johnson confronted Lewis—the flamboyant 27-year-old winner of the 1984 Olympic gold to Johnson’s bronze—in Zurich. Accelerating through the final 50 m, Lewis won easily. Johnson went on to race in Cologne, West Germany, and finished a distant third in an undistinguished field.
Having completed barely a half-dozen 100-m finals since his record run in Rome, Johnson arrived in Seoul from his training base in the outskirts of Tokyo. Said Francis: “He has been running his best times ever over 200 m, and his
starts for the 100 are great.” Training in Seoul last week, Johnson also recorded his best personal time over the 80-m distance and, later in the weight room, bench-pressed 396 lb., the most the 175-pounder had ever done. Then Johnson rested up for his races.
Powerful: In the first qualifying heat on Sept. 23 in Seoul, Lewis and Johnson easily advanced. But in the second round, Johnson stopped hearts back home. Only the top two finishers in each of the six heats—and four other sprinters with the best overall times—
would go to the semifinals. While Lewis dominated his heat in 9.99 seconds, Johnson eased up in his and finished third in a time of 10.17. In the end, that was enough to advance to the semis—but that became clear only after all the heat times had been computed. Later, Johnson’s agent, Larry Heidebrecht, conceded that Johnson did not know the rules governing the Round 2 races for reaching the semifinals. Just 90 minutes before the final, Johnson and Lewis ran in separate semifinals—and both finished first. Then, moments before Johnson entered the stadium later that day for the gold-medal final, he turned to Francis and said, “I’m ready.”
Before the race began, Lewis sought out Johnson and shook his hand. Attempting to gain a final advantage in the eight-man field, Johnson settled last into the block, trying to minimize the time he would have to lock his power-
ful frame into a ready position. When the gun sounded, he powered into the lead. Lewis said later that he did not see his rival running three lanes away until the race was almost over. But television replays clearly revealed that Lewis snuck three peeks at Johnson, the first at the midpoint—and his look indicated that Lewis knew the race was over.
As Johnson crossed the finish line, the cheers thundered across the Olympic Stadium and the winner jogged victoriously to the foot of the Olympic torch, holding a Canadian flag.
In the stands, an elated Gloria Johnson of Toronto said of her son’s triumph, “I closed my eyes and said a little prayer.” In Falmouth, Jamaica, where television service was still out because of hurricane Gilbert, Ben Johnson Sr., 63, a telephone company supervisor, listened to the race outside his home on a portable radio. Later, leaning on a fence post overlooking Market Street, he said: “They love my boy. Joy for me.” Nearby, his brother Harold, 74, likened Ben Johnson’s rise to a binational house-raising. “We supplied the rocks, and Canada, the bricks,” he said. “Canada deserves the medal.”
Impressive: Almost overlooked on the track in Seoul were the strong performances of the rest of the field. For the first time in Olympic history, four runners broke the 10-second mark: Lewis with a time of 9.92; Linford Christie of Britain, the bronze-medalwinner with a time of 9.97; and fourth-place finisher Calvin Smith of the United States with a time of 9.99. As well, Canada’s Desai Williams, Johnson’s Mazda Optimist Club teammate in Toronto, finished seventh with an impressive personal best of 10.11.
Lewis, meanwhile, stood alone at the end of the 100-m track looking stunned. Johnson furled
the flag, dropped it along the rail and climbed the stairs of the stadium for a live interview during CBC TV’s national news—during which he took a congratulatory call from Prime Minister Brian Mulroney in Ottawa. Finally, Johnson emerged, resplendent in white, for the medal ceremony—his right pant leg clinging inside a sock.
A double row of 18 trumpeters—their instruments bannered in gold and their hats plumed in white—heralded the beginning of the medal awards. Johnson, at five feet, 10 inches tall the smallest man of the three, stepped up on the centre podium and watched calmly as the Canadian flag rose. And during the playing of the national anthem, among all those savoring the moment it was Ben Johnson who, perhaps alone, had never doubted that it would arrive. “I have been waiting for this moment for the last 12 years,” he told report-
A DRAMATIC AND CONTROVERSIAL FIRST WEEK IN THE OLYMPIC GAMES
ers afterward. “In the last Olympic Games in 1984, I finished third. I said, my time will come.”
Later, Johnson spoke at a news conference, whose start was postponed for more than 90 minutes while the world’s fastest human tried to produce a urine sample for drugtesting. Said Johnson: “I knew Carl Lewis and Calvin Smith were the major guys. They both beat me early in the season in Zurich,” he said. “I didn’t get upset. I went home to work on my endurance and my starts. Those meets were part of my training.” As for Lewis’s daunting qualifying times, they were no more than milestones to be passed on the road to the record. “Carl Lewis was trying to impress me with his 9.99 and his 9.97. I just concentrated on the race.” But Johnson obviously remembered the times.
Disappointment: Johnson’s grace on the track was matched by Lewis away from the lanes. The Olympic gold medallist of 1984 had run the fastest 100 m of his life, and the fastest of any American in history. He was the first to congratulate Johnson after the race.
Later, Lewis faced more than 1,000 reporters in a temporary news conference theatre set up especially for the event at the Olympic Stadium. He said: “I ran the best I could. I am happy with the way I performed. So no matter what place I came in, I am happy with my race.”
The gold medal—Canada’s first at the Games and the first in track since Percy Williams won in the 100and 200-m sprints in 1928— was one of few bright spots in an otherwise uninspiring opening week of the Games for the Canadian team. The Soviet Union—back in Olympics competition along with its Eastern Bloc allies after boycotting the 1984 Los Angeles Games—led the medal count at the end of Week 1, the East Germans were second and the United States was a distant third—barely ahead of Bulgaria.
Until Johnson’s victory, the only other Canadian medallist was Yvonne Frassen, a 26-yearold hospital worker from Wallaceburg, Ont. She won a bronze in the demonstration sport tae kwon do, a martial art developed in Korea. The major disappointment came in the swimming competition. The eyes of Canadians were
on 15-year-old Allison Higson from Brampton, Ont., whose world record ranked her as the favorite in the 200-m breaststroke. But she climbed weeping from the pool Wednesday evening after finishing seventh out of eight (page 43). The tears turned to smiles at week’s
end when Higson won a bronze medal along with backstroker Lori Melien of Ajax, Ont., butterflyer Jane Kerr of Toronto, and freestyler Andrea Nugent of Calgary, all members of the 4 x 100-m medley relay, which finished third behind the Americans and the gold medallist East German team. Perhaps the most bitter ending for a Canadian athlete occurred in
boxing when St. Catharines, Ont., featherweight James Pagendam, 23, lost his opening bout but was declared the winner after a protest—only to be disqualified under international rules because he had taken too many blows to the head.
As well as the defeats and the disqualification, there was bravery. Gymnast Philippe Chartrand, 25, of Laval, Que., tore a ligament in his right knee, an injury requiring surgery, during the men’s team competition. Yet he performed two more routines, allowing the Canadian team to finish ninth overall, compared to a 14th-place finish at the 1987 world championships.
The most controversial event of the Games’ first week took place at the twin-ring boxing venue when a near-riot erupted after Korea’s Byun Jong-il lost a narrow decision to Bulgaria’s Alexander Hristov in a bantamweight bout. The Olympic Indoor Swimming Pool proved to be a gold mine for both the German Democratic Republic (GDR) and the United States—with East Germany’s unstoppable Kristin Otto and American Matt Biondi leading the way.
Exception: In the neighboring Olympic Gymnastics Hall, virtual ownership resided with the Soviet Union. At the same time, the American gymnastics team, goldmedal winners in Los Angeles, finished 11th out of 12 at Seoul. The USSR swept all three men’s medals in the men’s individual all-round and two of the three in the women’s. The lone exception: Romania’s entrancing Daniela Sivilas, 18, who took the silver in the allround women’s individual competition, narrowly losing the gold to the intense 19-year-old Soviet champion, Elena Shushunova.
Rattled: Except for Johnson and a handful of other athletes, Canada’s 386-member team, the fifthlargest contingent at the Games, was having one of its poorest Olympics starts ever. Sharon Bowes of Pointe-Claire, Que., came close in her event, the women’s air rifle: her final score of 394 broke the previous Olympic record of 393 but it was not good enough to break into the medals. The 24year-old Bowes was still rattled when she explained her performance later: “It was the Olympics, and I got nervous. I had the shakes, and the closer I got to match time, the worse it got.”
Things did not go much better for the Canadian basketball team. After losing their opener to Brazil, the Canadians gave the American team—undefeated at week’s end—its closest contest of the Games’ opening round, taking a surprising 42-40 lead at halftime, before losing
THE COMMUNIST BLOC RETURNS TO DOMINATE THE 1988 SCENE
76-70. “Beyond doubt, the U.S. has the best talent,” said Canadian coach Jack Donohue after the final whistle. “But we thought we could take them.” A narrow 99-96 win over China—the result of a three-point basket in the final seven seconds — moved the Canadians into the quarter-final round.
Tossed: Among the other dramatic moments last week was the women’s marathon. Smiling and waving to the crowd in the Olympic Stadium after running more than 42 tortuous kilometres through Seoul’s humid, smogshrouded streets, Rosa Mota, 30, became the first Portuguese woman to capture an Olympic gold. She easily won the marathon in 2:25:39. There was middle-distance runner Maricica Puica of Romania, the 38-year-old defending Olympic champion in the women’s 3,000 m, sitting on a bench in the stadium infield holding her head in her hands after dropping out of her qualifying heat with a leg injury, only 200 m from the finish line. There was fencer Jean François Lamour, 32, of France being tossed in the air by his jubilant coaches and teammates after he won the individual sabre gold.
Literally above them all was American diver Greg Louganis, at 28 striving to defend his
Olympic title in the three-metre springboard event, cracking his head on the board and plummeting into the pool in the qualifying round. After receiving four stitches to close the wound in the back of his head, Louganis completed his final dives to qualify first. Then, the following day, in the medal round, Louganis stood on the board for the same dive that ended in injury, a reverse 2% somersault in the pike position. Ignoring the pain, Louganis earned three scores of nine out of 10 from the seven judges and retained his Olympic crown, and the hope of becoming the first diver to win both diving gold medals in two consecutive Games.
Excellence: Although the Russians dominated the gymnastics competition, the four-foot, seven-inch Daniela Sivilas of Romania dazzled an adoring crowd on Friday with two successive midair pirouettes over the vault in her final routine of the women’s individual all-round competition. As the 70-lb. Romanian came back to earth, her bare feet bounced slightly on the pale-green mat. That was enough to prompt Soviet judge Nelli Kim, a triple goldmedal-winning gymnast at Montreal’s 1976 Games, to deduct 0.2 point from Silivas’s I score. Minutes later, Elena Shushunova came
0 perfectly over the vault in a flawless series of
1 somersaults that brought her feet to the mat as g if drawn on a wire. Kim—and the other five I judges—gave the performance a perfect 10, 3and lifted the Soviet into first place.
Out on the manicured green of the Olympic Stadium and the brick-red oval of the 400-m
track, the Americans began to assert their own brand of excellence as the weekend began. The phenomenal 26-year-old Jackie Joyner-Kersee dominated the two-day heptathlon—the gruelling combination of seven running, jumping and throwing events. In July, at the U.S. Olympic
trials in Indianapolis, she had broken her own world record in the event. Last Saturday, she sent the record tumbling again. Along the way, she set a new world record in the women’s long jump. Observed her husband and coach, Robert
Kersee: “She forgets all the pain and the signals from her body and goes on. She always wants more.”
The same could be said of Joyner’s 28-yearold sister-in-law, 100-m gold medal sprinter Florence Griffith-Joyner, whose husband-
coach is Joyner-Kersee’s brother. The world’s fastest woman—clocked at 10.49 seconds over the 100 m in July—and unofficial holder of the title as the most exotic dresser in track and field, Griffith-Joyner offered a
foretaste of performances to come from the U.S. team, winning Sunday’s 100-m sprint for women in an Olympic record time of 10.54 seconds.
As the Olympians retired at the midpoint of the Games to their village of highrise apartments—five kilometres away, but 45 minutes by taxi from the heart of Seoul— they could look back on hourlong waits for lunch at the athletes’ cafeteria, friendships formed in the “International Zone ” and medals won and lost by millimetres and microseconds. Of the more than 9,600 young people, for the sake of whose excellence the Olympic Games are dedicated, a precious few could aspire to some day match the accomplishments of Ben Johnson. As for the spectators and members of a worldwide television audience, they could only applaud Johnson’s proud new claim: “I could have broken 9.75 sec-
onds. I’m saving that for next
year.” On a shining Saturday in Seoul, Johnson had made them all believers.
HAL QUINN and CHRIS WOOD in Seoul with MARTIN STUART-HUARLE in Falmouth