The Race That Shocked The World


The BBC showed an excellent program last week (here) concerned the 100m sprint during the 1980s. It traced the rivalry between 1984 Olympic Champion Carl Lewis and 1988 Olympic champion Ben Johnson. But undermining all the records and medals was the use of drugs. Before the 1984 Olympics, in 1983, the US tested many of their athletes to get an idea of the extent of drug use whch were so dire they chose not to publicise their results. One commentator on the program stated 25 gold medals involved drug taking.

By 1988 Ben Johnson was the world champion and world record holder, demonstrating a fast start and the power to maintain his speed to the end making him uncatchable. Johnson won the race in 9.79 (present world record is 9.58) but his urine sample showed high levels of anabolic steroids in his system. He was stripped of the title and record and banned for 4 years.

In time, 5 (of 8) who started that race were banned through their career. Lewis was caught taking banned susbstances (at the time) but it was never followed up. Roger Kingdom stated it would be a disaster for US athletics if Lewis didn’t go. While Christie continues to act the douche (see his car crash court case) accusing others of being jealous when they point out his drug failures and saying we should move on. Carl Lewis and Britain’s Linford Christie challenged their usage of drugs to improve their performance. Christie won Olympic gold in 1992 but wouldn’t have been in that position if he hadn’t taken drugs. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s bodybuilding success and hence film career were equalled based on steroids use. This program included interviews with all the men who lined up in the 1988 final in Seoul.

Women’s sprint records are often smirked at. They all date back to the Cold War and in some cases the 1970s. Yet this program showed how rife cheating was and how much political motives intervened. US sprinters Joe DeLoach and Andre Phillips also failed drug tests but were allowed to go to Seoul to win gold medals. Near the end of the program, a drug scientist stated he went back to the 1983 samples and re-tested them with modern methods. After a while he stopped. He said he didn’t want to know.

Available on iPlayer here


2 thoughts on “The Race That Shocked The World

  1. Good points, well made. The issue was, as you suggest, the athletics world couldn’t afford to admit that all the original medalists were juiced. Not that the US was anything like as altruistic; more out and out greed for gold medals at all costs. It’s rather amusing that the US officials who bemoan Ben Johnson’s cheating are the same officials who turned a blind eye to Carl Lewis and were either too stupid or too bent do do anything about what Flo-Jo was blatantly up to.

    The female records are a joke. The combination of Flo-Jo, the eastern-bloc and more latterly, the Chinese, mean no clean athlete can hope to get anywhere near them.

  2. Agree. The female Chinese distance runners was even more odd. Appeared and disappeared in about two years. Clearly the drug was a government/military initiative. Makes you wonder where these drugs are now or how they have been advanced since.

    The swimming ones now look even more ridiculous. They had these swimsuits until 2009 and were smashing records. Since banning the suits no record has been touched.

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