Ben Johnson 9.79*

Ben Johnson 9.79*

The Olympics brings the world together in competition with the goal of crowning the best in the world at particular events. In 1988 the summer Olympics were hosted by Seoul, South Korea. As with every summer Olympics, one of the most prominent and main events was the men’s 100m dash. The winner of the 100m dash is crowned the world’s fastest man. In 1988, Canadian Ben Johnson won the gold medal with a then record time of 9.79 seconds. However, days following, Johnson was stripped of his medal for anabolic steroid use. To this day, the race is Canada’s most significant summer Olympic moment and opened the eyes of many to the reality of illegal performance doping among top level athletes.
On the surface the 1988 Olympic 100m dash men’s final was like all prior Olympic races. The 100m final took place on Saturday September 24. 70,000 spectators had filled the Seoul Olympic Stadium, with another two billion watching around the globe (Johnson and Moore, 1988).  The eight athletes, representing five countries all took to their positions in the blocks and waited for the race starter’s commands. As the runners remained focused on the sound of the starter’s gun, the CBC camera is zoomed in on Ben Johnson. Johnson’s muscles glimmering in the sunlight. His eyes flash up and down towards his fingers planted at the starting line. His left leg forward in the block, his right leg further back in the block. The camera zooms in closer on Johnson as he takes a large breathe before the start of the race. The race starter calls to the ready position. The athletes all rise to the starting position as CBC cuts to a wider angle. The gun sounds and all eight explode out of the blocks. As soon as the gun sounds, CBC puts a graphic in the bottom left corner of the screen that reads WR: 9.83, OR: 9.85. The announcer exclaims “they’re away cleanly, Ben Johnson flying out of the blocks. Can Carl Lewis make up the difference? Ben Johnson in the lead, can he hang on? Yes, he’s done it. Magnificent, a time of 9.79” (CBC, 1988).
Immediately following the Olympic victory, Ben Johnson was the face of glorious face of the Olympics. Johnson had become the first Canadian to win the 100m dash. Johnson was an Olympic hero and the world’s fastest man. Four hours following the race, samples were collected and taken to the Olympic Doping Control Center. At 6am on Monday September 26, 1988, Johnson’s sample had tested positive for anabolic steroid stanozolol. By 2pm, Canadian officials were informed of the positive test. At 10pm, the International Olympic Committee was informed of the positive and immediately decided to strip Ben Johnson of his gold medal. On Tuesday September 27, 1988 Johnson left Seoul head hanging in shame. The media swarmed Johnson as he walked through the Seoul airport (Johnson and Moore, 1988).  Johnson went from being the face of an Olympic hero, to the face of a cheater and villain. Johnson became the face of performance enhancing drug doping and till this day is still remember and mentioned when any athlete tests positive at the Olympics. Johnson received a lifetime ban from the Canadian national teams as well as a two year ban from international competitions (Johnson and Moore, 1988).  Johnson’s legacy is ultimately summed up and sealed in the October 3rd 1988 of Sports Illustrated. Johnson appears on the cover with the bolded letters of “BUSTED!” written across the bottom (Sports Illustrated, 1988).
Ben Johnson’s positive test put a public face on steroid use. Johnson’s physique and speed showed the public exactly what steroids could do to the human body. Johnson’s positive test made the public skeptical of every athlete of being on steroids. Especially since Johnson had passed drug tests leading up to the 1988 Olympics. At the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, Johnson claimed bronze in the 100m dash and had not tested positive. The Canadian public wanted answers and an inquiry about Johnson and the 1988 Olympics. The Canadian government launched the Commission of Inquiry into the Use of Drugs and Banned Practices Intended to Increase Athletic Performance or as it’s more commonly known, the Dublin inquiry.
The Dublin Inquiry received its name after the name of the man in charge of the investigation, Charles Dublin. Dublin was the Ontario Courts of Appeal Judge. After a ten month investigation, Dublin revealed his findings that would shock Canadians. The inquiry revealed rampant drug use among Canadian athletes. Dublin revealed that Ben Johnson’s Coach Charlie Francis and Dr. Jamie Astaphan had been giving steroids to multiple track and field athletes. The testimony and documentation of steroid cycling by Angella Issajenko were instrumental in the inquiry. The inquiry lead to much tough drug testing programs among Canadian National teams (Ormsby and Hall, 2008).
In Canadian Summer Olympic history, 9.79 is still the most iconic number and memory. In the years following, Donovan Bailey would win gold for Canada in the 100m dash at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. Bailey’s 9.84 second time is not remembered as fondly as 9.79 is engraved on the minds of Canadians. To the rest of the world it was Canadian Ben Johnson who tested positive. The red Canadian uniform plastered all over the media across the globe. Two billion people watched Ben Johnson adding to the significance of 9.79. The Olympic controversy of Ben Johnson and 9.79 changed the Olympics and added more importance to drug testing. 25 years later, ESPN released a documentary titled 9.79* that looked at Johnson and the drug use of all the competitors in the Seoul 1988 100m final. Ben Johnson wanted to be remembered as a gold medalist and the world’s fastest man. Instead Ben Johnson and his 9.79 will be remember forever for reasons he never would have guessed.


CBC. “Ben Johnson, 100m Final, CBC Feed, 1988 Seoul, Korea.” Video file, 00:28. Youtube. January 17, 2009. Accessed October 2, 2014.

Johnson, William Oscar, and Kenny Moore. “TRACK AND FIELD THE LOSER.” Sports Illustrated, October 3, 1988. Accessed October 2, 2014.

Ormsby, Mary, and Joseph Hall. “Ben Johnson scandal still haunts track world.” The Star. Last
modified September 24, 2008. Accessed October 2, 2014.

Sports Illustrated, October 3, 1988. Accessed October 2, 2014.


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