CANADA

A new race for gold?

The Dubin report is encouraging for Ben Johnson

D'ARCY JENISH July 9 1990
CANADA

A new race for gold?

The Dubin report is encouraging for Ben Johnson

D'ARCY JENISH July 9 1990

A new race for gold?

The Dubin report is encouraging for Ben Johnson

He drives a $325,000 black Ferrari Testarossa, and he says that he dreams every day of a rematch with his archrival, the American sprinter Carl Lewis. With his two-year international suspension for steroid use almost complete, former 100-m world-record holder Ben Johnson is training five days a week at a Toronto track club to prepare for his return to international competition. And last week, his chances of making a comeback improved dramatically with the release of a federally commissioned report on amateur athletes’ use of performance-enhancing drugs. Among its 70 recommendations, the report by Ontario Chief Justice Charles Dubin said that international and domestic track associations, rather than Ottawa, should determine Johnson’s future. Spokesmen for two Canadian athletic organizations said that they support Johnson’s return to competition. Later, the 28-year-old Jamaican-born athlete told a news conference that he recently ran 100 m in a world-class time of 10.06 seconds. Added Johnson: “I was bom to run. That’s all I want to do.”

But Johnson will run again for Canada only if the federal government accepts Dubin’s recommendations, which he made after 91 days of public hearings, at a cost of about $4 million, over nine months last year. The government will have to lift the lifetime ban on fund-

ing that it added to the International Amateur Athletics Federation’s (lAAF’s) two-year suspension of Johnson. Both penalties were imposed after a urine test revealed that the sprinter had taken a steroid called stanozolol before winning a gold medal in record time in the 100-m race at the September, 1988, Olympics in Seoul. The International Olympic Committee also stripped Johnson of his medal and erased his world record of 9.79 seconds. Even though he has several hurdles to clear before competing again, Johnson said last week that his goal is to win a gold medal at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona.

Dubin: some reacted bitterly to the contents

Although the Dubin report evidently left Johnson optimistic about his future, others reacted bitterly to its contents. Former Canadian weightlifting coach Andrzej Kulesza, whom Dubin found to be unrepentant about steroid use by his athletes, said that Dubin’s comments would make it impossible for him to work again as a federally funded coach. Retired sprinter Angella Issajenko, 31, a former holder of the women’s 50-m indoor world record, said that she had no interest in competing again or coaching after having revealed her drug use at the inquiry. And Charlie Francis, who coached Johnson, Issajenko and several other top Canadian sprinters during the 1980s, said that he would not attempt to find another coaching job, even though Dubin said in his report that I Francis’s frank testimony helped the inquiry. I The most vehement criticism came from Dr. a Mario Garnie) Astaphan, formerly Johnson’s I personal physician, who now practises medita cine on the Caribbean island of St. Kitts. Acf cording to the report, Astaphan supplied steu roids and administered them to Johnson and several other sprinters over a period of four years. Astaphan said in an interview from his home that the Dubin report contained “strong, pointed, nasty statements,” and he described them as “sick, ridiculous and laughable.”

For his part, Dubin recommended that the Ontario College of Physicians and Surgeons review the conduct of Astaphan and Dr. Ara Artinian, another Toronto physician who admitted in testimony before the inquiry that he had supplied athletes with steroids. A day after the release of Dubin’s report, the Ontario college announced that both doctors would face charges of professional misconduct. If they are found guilty, they could lose their licences to practise in Ontario.

Although it was specifically the Johnson steroid scandal that prompted Prime Minister Brian Mulroney’s government to establish the inquiry on Oct. 5,1988, the Dubin commission examined the conduct of dozens of individuals, as well as the attitudes and practices that led to the allegedly widespread use of performanceenhancing drugs among Canada’s Olympic athletes. A total of 119 witnesses testified before the inquiry. Dubin’s conclusions were contained in a 638-page report based on almost 15,000 pages of testimony. Among his recommendations were calls for Ottawa to impose more stringent licensing requirements on drug wholesalers, manufacturers, importers and distributors of steroids. He also argued that Canada needs stiffer penalties for illegal possession, importing and trafficking in steroids.

Dubin’s report also contained several recommendations aimed at improving the effectiveness of tests to determine whether athletes have been taking steroids. Dubin suggested that the Ottawa-based Sport Medicine Council of Canada become the central, independent agency responsible for testing amateur athletes for illegal drugs. As well, Dubin recommended that all of Canada’s national sports organizations contribute a fixed percentage

of their annual budgets to help pay for regular drug testing. Dubin added that the council should rely on a combination of random, short-notice and out-of-competition testing to ensure that athletes are free of illicit drugs.

At the same time, Dubin lamented the apparently widespread use of performance-enhancing drugs by athletes competing internationally. He said that, in the past, a “conspiracy of silence” among athletes, coaches and sports administrators allowed drug use to grow, and that cheating has probably done irreparable damage to the image of amateur sports.

But he added that drug use is merely a symptom of a much deeper moral problem that affects contemporary society. Said Dubin: “Drugs and the unprincipled pursuit of wealth and fame at any cost now threaten our very social fabric. It is little wonder that immorality has reached into sport.”

Although sports administrators generally applauded Dubin’s conclusions, some also warned that Canadian athletes could be at a disadvantage in the future if they are kept free of performanceenhancing drugs. Cecil Smith, executive director of the Ontario Track and Field Association, said that American sports federations will never try to eliminate performanceenhancing drugs because fewer world champions would mean fewer corporate sponsorship dollars.

He added that, if East Germany were to launch an investigation comparable to the Dubin inquiry, several world records would be erased, and the country’s reputation as an athletic powerhouse would severely suffer. Said Smith: “We can send teams out of Canada that are as pure as the driven snow. But I’m skeptical whether they’ll land on a level playing field.”

One day after the Dubin report’s release, the Ontario association became the first domestic sports organization to endorse Johnson’s return to international competition. Association president Rolf Lund said that Johnson should be allowed to represent Canada at the world indoor track-and-field championships in Seville, Spain, next March. Paul Dupré, president of Athletics Canada, formerly the Canadian Track

and Field Association, told an Ottawa news conference that his organization will lobby the government, if necessary, to ensure that Johnson again represents the country in international competition. And an IAAF spokesman in Stockholm said that the association would not seek to block Johnson’s return. Said Ame Ljungqvist, chairman of the LAAF’s medical committee: “This will not be the first athlete to

return after having been banned for anabolic steroid use. This is the normal routine.”

But spokesmen for both the federal government and the Montreal-based Canadian Olympic Association said that they wanted to study the Dubin report before making a decision on Johnson’s future eligibility. Richard Paradis, press secretary to Fitness and Amateur Sport Minister Marcel Danis, said that the minister would have to consider the numerous recommendations in the report and consult with the country’s governing sports bodies before making any decisions. Added Paradis: “Far more information came out than anyone expected.”

Even though Johnson has not competed in nearly two years, he insisted last week that he still has the ability to beat the world’s best in the 100-m dash. He said that anabolic steroids, which he began using regularly in 1981, allowed him to spend more time lifting weights and running, but did not increase his speed. Johnson added that, during the past year, he has trained five days a week, although he took three weeks off last winter and went to Jamaicaafter his father died there.

The sprinter’s current training partner, Gregory English, a 20-year-old first-year student at York University, said that he and Johnson spend about 2V2 hours a day running and lifting weights. He said that he has seen Johnson clock between 7.7 and 7.8 seconds over 80 m, which he described as “a very competitive time.” As well, he said that Johnson is bench-pressing 335 lb., almost twice his body weight, and can squat with 550 lb., three times his weight, on his shoulders. In January, 1988, while preparing for the Seoul Olympics, Johnson was reported to be benchpressing 385 lb. and squatting with 685 lb. Added George van Zeyl, a sprint coach whose runners frequently train alongside Johnson: “Indoors, he has been as fast as anyone else this year. I would say he would be one of the three fastest in the world.”

Athletes and trainers who have watched JohnI son train in recent months say that they are also imz pressed by his discipline and determination. At his I news conference follow° ing the release of the Dubin report last week, Johnson said that he wants to regain the respect of the Canadian public. As well, he added that he badly wants to beat Lewis, the brash American who was awarded the gold medal in Seoul and subsequently the world record after Johnson’s suspension. “Deep down in my heart,” said Johnson, “I know I can beat the best without taking drugs.” Although some clearly doubt him now, the chastened former champion seems determined to make them believe in his ability—if Ottawa will give him the chance.

D'ARCY JENISH

STEVEN EDWARDS

DAN BURKE