Once in Seoul, Johnson showed signs of renewed steroid use. On the practice track a few days before the track and field events began, an American trainer saw Johnson and was shocked. "His eyes were so yellow with his liver working overtime processing steroids that I said he's either crazy or he's protected with an insurance policy," the trainer said. In mentioning an insurance policy, the trainer was referring to rumors that surfaced after the Rome World Championships that positive tests had been covered up by the IAAF to insure that no superstars, of which Johnson is certainly one, would be disqualified. The IAAF denied the rumors.
In Seoul, however, the IOC was in charge of testing, and there was no deal to protect anyone. War had been declared on drugs by IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch, and the get-tough policy found its mark in the 100 meters, one of the best races in track history.
In the blocks, Johnson stared down the track with a murderous expression. Lewis seemed relaxed. He had been distracted by Johnson's incredibly quick start in the latter's world-record performance in Rome, and he had drilled himself never to let that happen again. And he had a promise to keep.
Lewis's father, Bill, his first coach, died of cancer last year. At the funeral Carl unexpectedly drew his Olympic 100-meter gold medal from his pocket and placed it in his father's hand. "He had been so excited and proud of the L.A. 100 that that was the one thing I wanted to go with him, a piece of me I could leave him," says Carl. "As I let go, his hand almost seemed to grasp it."
Carl's mother, Evelyn, watched this happen. "Carl must have seen the look on my face," she said. "He told me, 'Don't worry, I'll get another one.' "
Yet no man had ever successfully defended an Olympic 100-meter title. "Carl had to go into new territory," said Francis after the race, in a remark that would soon be ironic. "Ben just had to return to where he'd been."
In Rome, Johnson had reacted to the gun in .129 of a second (sensors in the blocks tell us these things), while Lewis took .196. Because Johnson grabbed a yard in the first few steps, it didn't look fair. But in Seoul the field got off evenly. Johnson's reaction time was .132. Lewis's was .136. At 30 meters Johnson had, at most, a couple of feet on Lewis, for whom things looked good. He had stayed this close in Zurich and won. "Then," Johnson said of his race in Seoul, "I blew it out."
His face a mask of ferocity, Johnson leapt ahead. By 50 meters he had a meter lead. By 80, he had two. "I said to myself, 'He's coming,' " said Johnson, "and I did my best to hold form."
Lewis ran another distracted race. Three times he looked to the right, to Johnson. As he neared the finish line, he was already preparing to accept the shock. Two meters from the finish, Johnson knew that he had won. He eased, put his right arm up and looked triumphantly at Lewis.
Johnson's time was a world record by .04 of a second; he had torn a huge chunk off his old mark, which everyone had come to regard as a fixture for the ages. Lewis broke the American record with his 9.92. Great Britain's Linford Christie was third with a European record 9.97. Calvin Smith was fourth in 9.99. It was the first race ever in which four sprinters did better than 10.0.