sports gazette

Iconic Photo:The Dirtiest Race in History

1988 Seoul Olympics 100 metres @Ronald C. Modra
Published: 1 May 2014

The 24th September 1988 is a date often mentioned in discussions about performance enhancing drugs in athletics.

This picture captures a moment during the 100 metres where Canadian Ben Johnson won with a world record time of 9.79 seconds. It is however what followed 24 hours afterwards that is remembered about the Canadian Sprinter.

Johnson's post race urine sample tested positive with the banned substance Stanozolol. This resulted in the removal of his gold-medal and his 9.79 second clocking.

At the time of his victory Johnson claimed, “no one could take it away from you.”

A Jamaican by birth he left for Seoul as a proud Candian citizen representing his adopted country at one ofthe most prestigious events in the world but returned in disgrace.  

 Five other athletes in that final at various stages of their careers were later proven to be steroid or performance enhancing drug users. Only the American sprinter Calvin Smith and the Brazilian Robeson de Silva remained clean throughout their careers.

So what was built up to be the greatest 100-metre field ever assembled with the likes of Olympic Champion Carl Lewis and future Olympic champion Linford Christie became known by most as the ‘Dirtiest Race in History’.

Why did they do it? Well, as sports journalist Richard Moore suggests - 'Why would you not when you saw your other competitors getting away with it?'

This point of view is supported by Johnson’s then coach, former Canadian national sprinter Charles Francis. Francis said: "You can set up your blocks up a metre behind the start line or you could be equal."

Perhaps reflecting this ambivalent attitude after the race the International Olympic Committee (IOC) chose not to enforce a more rigorous testing regime.  Moore believed it was not a fight that they wanted.  

He later revealed "There were only one or two individuals in the IOC who were keen to fight against performance enhancing drugs."

It would be a full 12 years before the World Anti-doping agency (WADA) was formed in response to the 1998 Tour De France scandal.

The action taken after the 1988 race in fact proved to be only a beginning to Athletics' long ongoing battle against cheats.  

Most recently Russia’s Lillya Shobukhova, winner of the London Marathon in 2010, received a two-year ban from the sport. She has now been ordered to pay back more than one million pounds in prize money.

Likewise Jamaican Sherone Simpson, an Olympic gold and silver 4x100m relay medalist, has recently been suspended for 18 months subject to appeal after testing positive during last June’s Jamaican trials.

Perhaps the time has come now when the majority of athletes realise that using performance enhancing drugs is unaccepatable and that arguments trying to jusify their use are no longer vaild. Hopefully WACA's role is reinforcing this.    

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