Bruny Surin lives with a ghost, a spectre that has haunted him since he embarked on the quest that has made him the fastest man in Canada—and one of the top sprinters in the world. It began in 1989, almost from the moment the Montreal runner burst out of the starting blocks to capture the 100-m Canadian championship in only his first year of track competition. “My timing was very bad,” Surin, now 26, recalls with a tight little smile. “It was a year after the big scandal—with Ben Johnson and all that stuff.” Then, the smile turns to a grimace. “Immediately, people started to wonder if they were looking at yet another Canadian athlete with a drug problem.”
In the intervening years, Surin has done his best to bury Johnson’s steroid-riddled ghost. A native of Haiti whose parents brought him to Montreal—where he now lives—when he was 7 years old, Surin repeated as national champion
Leading The Pack
in 1990, and in every year thereafter. In 1991, he cut his time to 10.07 seconds, then the following year to his best ever, an eminently respectable 10.05 seconds—compared with American
Carl Lewis’s current world record of 9.86 seconds. Last year at the Barcelona Olympics, he led the pack at the halfway mark in the 100-m final only to fade in the race’s dying stages and finish fourth in 10.09 seconds. Undeterred, Surin bounced right back. Last February, he established himself as the fastest man this year over 60 m, with a time of 6.45 seconds. And in March, at the world indoor championships in Toronto’s SkyDome, he won an even bigger race. After stumbling out of the blocks, he recovered in time to charge past the field and capture the world crown, his first major international title. Surin now is finally beginning to earn the recog-
nition denied him when he labored in Johnson’s shadow. He is the International Amateur Athletic Federation’s reigning outstanding male athlete of the 1993 indoor season. Over 60 m, Surin is now ranked No. 1 globally. Outdoors over 100 m, he has earned a place among an elite group of sprinters who are expected to dominate the sport in the next few years: first at next August’s Commonwealth Games in Victoria, then at the 1995 world championships and in the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. “An Olympic gold,” Surin remarks, rolling the words over his tongue with obvious relish. “That’s my ultimate desire right now.”
It is a realistic one, too, but fate has intervened in the young man’s life before, often with unpredictable results. A high-school basketball star, he had no interest in pursuing other sports until convinced otherwise by a local Montreal track coach. Initially, he was a long jumper, skilled enough at the event to compete during the 1988
Olympics at Seoul. A succession of ankle injuries forced him out of the long jump and into the sprint. “I guess you could say I discovered my destiny by a series of accidents,” Surin says.
There’s been nothing accidental, however, about his achievement since he first began to run seriously. In only four years, he has managed to climb to the pinnacle of his chosen sport. And, in a perverse way, at least part of the credit may belong to the ghost of the man he has been forced to battle along the way. “I wanted to prove that Ben Johnson was wrong,” he says. “I wanted to prove that it is possible to be a champion runner without resorting to drugs.” Even if he never wins another race, Bruny Surin has already accomplished that much.
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