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Inside the Games

Ben Johnson explodes onto the scene

It was exactly 3:53am on this particular Monday, September 26 in Seoul, when a report from Agence France Presse (AFP) in Seoul had a bomb-like effect in editors' offices around the world and in the main press centre in Seoul where a few journalists were still filing copy.

Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson, winner of the 100m on September 24 in a record time of 9.79 sec, had tested positive following a routine doping test. He was immediately disqualified.

The sprinter's urine contained residue belonging to an anabolic steroid from the "stanozolol" family, one of the many to feature on the list of banned substances.

The news, which spread like wildfire around the globe, had a profound effect on the Games in Seoul and once more rocked the IOC to its foundations.

Dejected and disqualified

A Canadian delegation including the coach of the disgraced sprinter, Charlie Francis, attended an anti-doping centre for the result of Johnson's second urine sample which was again positive.

The Canadian delegation, shattered by what would quickly become the biggest scandal of the Games, offered a measly defence of their disgraced athlete, saying that he could have been doped against his wishes.

But this was in vain. The formal report showed the true extent of the damage: the traces of stanozolol found in Johnson's body indicated that systematic use of the drug was evident over a long period of time.

Stripped of his gold medal, the International Amateur Athletics Federation added its own punishment, banning Johnson from all competition for two years and erasing his records from the books.

Like a criminal

Disgraced and humiliated, Johnson left the Olympic Games. His glory which ascended shortly after crossing the finish line with his finger pointing skywards to indicate victory ahead of Carl Lewis, Linford Christie and Calvin Smith, turned out to be short-lived.

On Tuesday, Johnson departed for the airport at Kimpo surrounded by around twenty bodyguards.

Photographers were kept at a distance. Johnson's face was hidden behind an attache-case held at arms-length. He made no statement and left the South Korean capital by the back door like an underworld criminal.

The dreams of the Jamaican, who emigrated to Canada at the age of 14 to escape the misery of his home country and to further his obvious athletic qualities, lay in tatters and had turned into a nightmare. An enormous waste, and a sad ending to a potential Olympic champion.


Copyright 2012 Agence France-Presse.