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THE LOSER
William Oscar Johnson
October 03, 1988
In late May, Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson traveled to the Caribbean island of St. Kitts to be treated by his doctor, Jamie Astaphan. Ten days before, he had aggravated a pulled left hamstring, an injury that could ruin his gold medal chances at the Seoul Olympics. Astaphan administered a variety of therapies during the next 10 days. On Tuesday two sources told SPORTS ILLUSTRATED that Astaphan also injected Johnson with anabolic steroids.
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October 03, 1988

The Loser

In late May, Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson traveled to the Caribbean island of St. Kitts to be treated by his doctor, Jamie Astaphan. Ten days before, he had aggravated a pulled left hamstring, an injury that could ruin his gold medal chances at the Seoul Olympics. Astaphan administered a variety of therapies during the next 10 days. On Tuesday two sources told SPORTS ILLUSTRATED that Astaphan also injected Johnson with anabolic steroids.

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Lewis went to Johnson at the edge of the track and shook his hand. Then, to a TV interviewer, he said, "He must have really caught a flyer la sensational start], just like in Rome." Later he denied making any such observation. "I didn't see him until the last 30 meters, so I can't say a thing about his start. He ran a great race, obviously.... The Olympics are about doing the best you can. I did the best I could."

Johnson, addressing the press later that afternoon, was elaborately proud. "I'd like to say my name is Benjamin Sinclair Johnson Jr., and this world record will last 50 years, maybe 100," he said. "More important than the world record was to beat Carl Lewis and win the gold."

Roughly four hours after the 100 meters, the urine samples from the event—taken from the top four finishers in a room in the stadium—were delivered to the Olympic Doping Control Center less than half a mile away, across the Han River. Each sample was divided into two parts, labeled A and B. Sample A was tested first; B was put aside for a second test, to be done if the first came up positive.

By 6 a.m. Monday, Dr. Park Jong Sei, director of the testing center, learned that an A sample he was testing contained stanozolol, a dangerous anabolic steroid that can be taken in pill form, and is believed to cause cancer of the liver. Park told SI's Richard Demak that he tested the same sample once more, even though this was not required, and got the same result. Park then notified the IOC's Medical Commission. At this point, Park didn't know who the guilty Olympian was because the samples were identified only by number.

The number belonged to Johnson, and because the IOC mandates that an athlete must be notified when his A sample comes up positive, Carol Anne Letheren, chef de mission of the Canadian team, was given the disconcerting news. Park didn't learn the identity of the Olympian in question until early Monday afternoon when the Canadians showed up for the testing of the B sample. Now he was concerned that there be absolutely no hint of error in the tests. By 2 p.m. Park, in the presence of two Canadian officials, had found stanozolol in Johnson's B specimen, but he decided not to tell the IOC immediately.

"I had to be absolutely sure," Park said. He ran sample B twice more through the analysis, and it was not until 10 p.m. Monday that he finally notified the IOC that he was certain that Johnson had had an anabolic steroid in his system. Later, one of Park's IOC advisers, Manfred Donike, who runs a highly respected drug-testing laboratory in Cologne, explained that it was inconsequential if the test revealed a small, medium or large amount of steroids in the urine. "That doesn't matter, because there's no borderline case in steroids," he said. "Just like you can't be a little bit pregnant, either it's there or it isn't. I can tell you that in this case, it was not a small amount."

With the news of Johnson's positive drug test, alarms began ringing all around Seoul. Thanks to the great care Park had taken with the tests, no one questioned the veracity of his findings. Neither Johnson nor Francis appeared before the IOC Medical Commission. However, Heidebrecht claimed that after the race someone had intentionally given Johnson a liquid containing a banned substance.

Richard Pound, a Canadian lawyer who is a vice-president of the IOC, interviewed Johnson, as well as Canadian track and field officials, and told SI's Crosbie Cotton, "Ben says he hasn't taken anything. As far as I can tell, he has no knowledge of anything. His body may be guilty, but his mind is innocent. The team view is that Ben doesn't use any illegal substances. They say that someone had to give it to him after the race. However, the IOC Medical Commission said what was found in the tests definitely wasn't something that could have been slipped into a beer."

Once the wheels of sports justice got rolling, Johnson was not only stripped of his medal and his world record, but the IAAF also suspended him from all international meets for two full years. He stands to lose millions in appearance fees and endorsements he would have made as Olympic champion. Indeed, for all other competitors in track and field who have loaded up with steroids, the warning explicit in the tragic example of Johnson is unmistakable. The two-year suspension, in fact, may spell the end of this marvelous athlete's career. At 26, it's questionable whether he can return to such form—with or without steroids.

Of course, given Johnson's plight, the dark question loomed larger than ever over Seoul: How many other Olympians, gold medalists or not, have made it to these Games on a steady diet of drugs? It would be wrong, though, to brand all of the world's best athletes with the same ugly mark. Many, perhaps most, of the outstanding track and field competitors of the 1988 Olympics—Lewis, who on Monday successfully defended the Olympic long jump title he won in Los Angeles. 110-meter hurdler Roger Kingdom, 400-meter hurdler Edwin Moses, decathlete Daley Thompson, to name a few—are acknowledged to be winners without dope.

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