Ben Johnson: Former Canada’s Sprint King Fall From Hero to Zero

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Athletes who take shortcuts by doping to win quick money lose most, if not all, of it if they get caught. When they get away with it, their reputation remains questionable and other athletes feel cheated. Well, Ben Johnson used performance-enhancing drugs and was caught. For all the effort he put in, he lost most of his medals and is rarely mentioned among the greatest runners of his time. Here’s his full story. 

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Ben Johnson’s Beginning

Ben Johnson’s career. Video Credit: N1 Media Consultancy Private Limited

Benjamin Sinclair Johnson is a Jamaican-born Canadian who, for a moment, emerged as Canada’s best track & field athlete. He worked with a former sprinting champion, Charlie Francis. This boarded well for his prospects and that was seen during his first international success.

At the 1982 Commonwealth Games, he won two silver medals and also ran with the Canadian team in the 4 by 100m. The following year, Johnson failed to win a medal at the 1983 World Championship and the 1983 Pan American Games.

However, he bounced back in his first Olympic Games in 1984 in Los Angeles. He got a bronze medal, finishing behind Carl Lewis and Sam Graddy. Ben Johnson was also a bronze medalist with the Canadian team. These victories amplified his reputation and was regarded as one of the best in the country.

However, he went on an eight-race losing streak and then bounced back, winning against Lewis, who was the biggest sprinter of the time, broke the 60m record and other tournaments. 

He was even recognized as a Member of the Order of Canada for his performances in breaking the 60 and 100-meter records. Johnson also had other individual awards come his way.

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Doping Allegations

Ben Johnson’s doping scandal. Video Credit: CBC News: The National

Ben Johnson’s meteoric rise to the top of the sprint world raised eyebrows. Carl Lewis and other sprinters were suspicious that he and other Toronto-based runners were doping. 

These allegations came before the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul, South Korea, and Johnson refuted them, stating that when Lewis won races, no one questioned and he wouldn’t question if someone else won against him.  

This set up a showdown in Seoul. Johnson won the 100-meter race in a world record time of 9.79 seconds. He was the first Canadian to win this race in 60 years. However, a few hours later, Ben Johnson’s career took a turn for the worse. 

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Doping Confirmation

The Olympic Doping Control Center found remnants of a banned substance stanozolol in his urine sample. He was disqualified, and stripped of his medal and world record. He and his coach admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs and also claimed that all the top athletes of the time did the same.

The 1988 Seoul Olympic Games is referred to as the ‘Dirtiest Race in History’ because only two of the eight athletes on track were clean. During the subsequent investigations, Johnson confessed that he had used drugs since 1981 and was suspended for two years. 

In 1991, he began his comeback but failed another drug test in 1993. This was the final blow to his career as the (IAAF) International Association of Athletics Federations banned for life him. 

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Life After Athletics

Johnson’s reputation was severely damaged, such that no one wanted to compete against him. Eventually, he left the sport and tried his hands on a couple of businesses, but he was unsuccessful. 

He’s reiterated several times that athletes are still using drugs to enhance their performance and that the officials sacrificed their careers to protect other athletes.

Although Ben Johnson cries foul over the handling of his case, others will argue that his fortieth day arrived. During the trials, it was established that his personal best without the use of drugs was a top speed for a teenager, enough to win him a bronze medal. It shows that if he ran clean and trained well, he still could have reached the pinnacle. 

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