I was in Sauble Beach that summer of ’88, looking up at a TV set with several friends watching Ben Johnson smash the 100-meter mark at the Summer Olympic Games in Seoul, South Korea.
Everybody in the room was standing and cheering after the race. The idea that Canada would win any gold medal at a summer Olympics was a bigger stretch in those days, but to take THE medal? Who was going to let that happen?
Well, not the IOC, apparently. Thursday, TSN presents the ESPN “30 for 30” film 9:79*, which recently played at the Toronto International Film Festival. The documentary features candid interviews with Johnson, Lewis and all eight sprinters in the race.
Johnson–who ran a sizzling 9:79 in the 100 meter finals–was the world champion and the record holder at the time at that distance. His cocky turn of the head as he breezed past Lewis at the finish line might have cost him a few more 100ths of a second.
Canadians coast-to-coast felt sick 48 hours later when he was stripped of his medal after testing positive for anabolic steroids.
Johnson’s disgrace seemed compounded years later as he agreed to appearing in comical “Cheetah” power drink ads as his endorsement money vanished. He paid the ultimate price and remains the face of the steroid era even though few believe others weren’t or aren’t on the juice.
Nobody gets their pants pulled down like Ben did at today’s Games, but every time anybody does freakishly well in any sport since, few believe it is from eating Wheaties. Five other competitors in that same race either tested positive for performance enhancing drugs or were implicated in a drug scandal–including Lewis, Sports Illustrated’s “Olympian of the Century.” The stronger Olympic nations, it has long been felt (and not just by Canadians), are able to protect their athletes.
These 30 for 30 films are always entertaining. 9:79* also features interviews from Canadian broadcasters Brian Williams, Gino Reda and Rod Smith. Thursday at 8:30 p.m. ET on TSN.