THE ERASING OF JOHNSON
At its congress last week in Barcelona, the International Amateur Athletic Federation ( IAAF) passed a package of rules that, among other things, will strip sprinter Ben Johnson of his world records, including the 100 meters. After the International Olympic Committee took away Johnson's gold medal in the 100, which he won in a world-record time of 9.79, for having tested positive in Seoul for the steroid stanozolol, the previous mark of 9.83, which Johnson had set at the World Championships in 1987, remained the record.
This summer Johnson testified at a drug inquiry in Canada that he had been using performance-enhancing drugs since 1981. That testimony prompted the drug legislation adopted last week, which broadens the definition of a "doping offense" to include the admission of having used a banned substance and gives the IAAF the power to strip titles and times based on that admission. Thus, as of Jan. 1, 1990, Carl Lewis will hold the world record in the 100 with a time of 9.92, and Lee McRae the 60 mark with a time of 6.50.
The way in which the IAAF reached its decision revealed more about the power of Primo Nebiolo, the federation's president, than about the desire of the 129 nations represented in Barcelona to censure Johnson and other drug users. The vote took place at the end of a seemingly interminable five-hour morning session, during which Nebiolo, who is Italian, rambled on in heavily accented English that was difficult to understand. Finally, without any warning that he intended to ask the assembly to vote on the drug package, Nebiolo said simply, "May I propose we accept it as a united bloc? Don't eat too much. We have a lot to do in the afternoon."
There was applause. The word vote was never used. No hands were shown. No ballots were collected. But in those few moments Johnson's most outstanding achievements were erased from track and field's record books. "That was a disgrace to democracy," Cecil Smith, executive director of the Ontario Track and Field Association, told SI's Merrell Noden. "But how can anyone challenge [the decision]? One hundred and twenty-nine countries voted. They had a clapometer. Didn't you see it?" Only later that day did the IAAF's honorary treasurer, Robert Stinson, ask for a show of hands. The drug legislation passed, but between one and three dozen countries did not vote for the rules, thus denying Nebiolo the unanimous acclaim he seemed to be seeking.
The legislation itself lacks clarity; questions are many. What constitutes an admission of drug use? If one member of a relay team admits violating the drug rules and is asked to forfeit a medal, will the other members of the team be expected to do so as well? How long after an athlete has taken steroids is it fair to assume the drugs are assisting the athlete? Six months? A year? The hastily passed measures may haunt the IAAF in the future.
AN UPLIFTING EXPERIENCE
Spreading spiritual light and bliss around the world is no mean undertaking, so 58-year-old guru Sri Chinmoy conjured up a stunt equal to the task: celebrity pressing. Between June 1988 and August of this year, the round-bellied, 155-pound Chinmoy traveled to 17 countries, along the way hoisting such luminaries as comedian Eddie Murphy, 49er linebacker Keena Turner and Steingr�mur Hermannsson, the prime minister of Iceland, over his bald head with one hand. O.K., so he didn't hoist them so much as budge the raised platform on which they were standing by a few inches. But the short ride truly transported some of the liftees. "It was exhilarating!" says Olympic gold medalist Carl Lewis. "Not like being lifted in the regular sense of the term."
"I tried to congratulate them with my prayerful meditation and inner oneness with them," says Chinmoy, a fitness advocate from Pondicherry, India. "I lifted them to show my deepest appreciation for their achievements." When Chinmoy hoisted his 1,300th liftee—Dr. Bruce Merrifield, a Nobel Prizewinner in chemistry—last month, he decided to call it quits. Why stop there? "He likes 13," says his publicist, Agraha Levine. "It's been a good number for him."
After the sixth race at Yonkers Raceway on the afternoon of Sept. 5, assistant track announcer George Anthony was startled to find three hook-and-ladder trucks on the track apron. Not until four fire fighters showed up in the booth did Anthony realize that it was he who had summoned the trucks. As A Bs Streaker was burning up the track en route to a seven-length win over seven other pacers, Anthony had screamed, "Call the fire department!" Someone did.