Home Bookend - Where reading meets review The Dirtiest Race in History: Ben Johnson, Carl Lewis and the 1988 Olympic 100m Final (Wisden Sports Writing) by Richard Moore

The Dirtiest Race in History: Ben Johnson, Carl Lewis and the 1988 Olympic 100m Final (Wisden Sports Writing) by Richard Moore

by Venky


The Race; The Rivalry; The Result and The Recrimination. on the 24th of September, 1998 at 1.20 P.M in Seoul, 7 athletes limbered their bodies, trying to slacken and relax their muscles and limbs. However, Robson da Silva, Raymond Stewart, Lindford Christie, Desai Williams, Calvin Smith and Dennis Mitchell merely made up the numbers. The attention of the whole world was riveted upon the remaining 2 finalists – Carl Lewis and Ben Johnson.

The 100 meters sprint finals at the Seoul Olympics in 1988 defined a seminal moment in the acerbic rivalry between two supreme athletes. Their battles were spoken of in the same breath as the boxing bouts of Ali & Frazier and the serve and volley clashes of Borg and Connors. While King Carl was refined, polished, cultured and sophisticated in his demeanour, Big Ben was his polar opposite. Looking brash and sounding cocky, Ben Johnson was a perfect anathema of a sophisticated role model.

As the starting gun was fired, all seven athletes sprung up and took off like a pack of gazelles. However at the end of 9.79 seconds, Ben Johnson the ‘Human Bullet’ had left the whole pack hopelessly trailing behind him. Johnson and Canada had bagged the gold medal. But the euphoria barely lasted couple of days. In a stunning announcement made on the Tuesday following the race, the Olympic Association announced to a stunned world that Johnson had been tested positive for a banned substance, Stanozolol, which led to his being disqualified and consequently stripped of his medal. Carl Lewis thus had the unique honour of defending (albeit in unusual circumstances) his gold medal conquest in the Los Angeles Olympics held four years earlier. But was Ben Johnson’s sample as a result of a spiking conspiracy? Did a mysterious man who was in the anti-doping test room (where he had no business whatsoever), spike Johnson’s beer? Was this a conspiracy contrived by Carl Lewis himself?

In this stunning work, Richard Moore ploughs deep into the underbelly of the athlete-doctor-drug runner network and unearths the murky and dangerous side athletics. In fact amongst all the runners who started in the sensational 100 meters sprint final at Seoul, only Calvin Smith and Robson da Silva had squeaky clean drug-free careers. Even Lewis was tested positive at the pre-Olympic trials only to be exonerated mysteriously!

Doctors collude with coached and urine samples disappear overnight as the steroid market runs into overdrive to make athletes stronger, faster and over time, poorer in health. Charlie Francis, the coach of Ben Johnson, in tandem with an eccentric medical doctor, Jamie Astaphan consciously egged on their pupil on a stringent steroid regimen injecting into his body performance enhancing drugs such as Estrogol and other Human Growth Harmones (“HGH”).

The world of sports is at a real crossroads. With an ineffective anti-doping body and extremely ell connected and influential ‘fixers’ having the wherewithal and the resources to bypass investigation mechanisms, ‘cheats’ are beginning to abound. Richard Moore with devastating clarity exhorts the governing agencies to take the bull by its horns and put it to permanent sleep.

The Dirtiest Race – Time to come Clean!

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