Here’s an interesting article from Sports Illustrated that recalled the Lewis:Johnson showdown in Seoul almost 10 years ago….
The damn shame is all anyone seems to remember is what happenednext: the disgrace of a positive steroid test, the flight from Seoul,the Dubin Inquiry into drugs in sports, the subsequent comeback and asecond positive test, the match race against a horse. Almost twodecades later, sometimes it seems that Ben Johnson’s only lasting contribution to sport is he taught us how to spell Stanozolol.
But on a warm Saturday afternoon in South Korea — late Friday night viewing back in Canada — there was indeed a race. In 9.79 stunning seconds, it was over — and I still swear those were the most thrilling 10 seconds of my life, no matter what my wife tells you.
Ifthere is a sound in sports more impressive than the library silencethat descends upon 80,000 people before a 100-meter Olympic final –thank you, Simon & Garfunkel — it is the electric buzz of a crowd before heavyweights bob their way into the ring for a title fight. And make no mistake, Ben Johnson vs. Carl Lewisin Seoul 1988, the best sprinters of their or maybe any era, was a100-meter final and a heavyweight fight. (There were six other lanefillers. For the life of me, I can’t remember one.) The two sprintersseemed larger than life; in Johnson’s case, unfortunately, this wasliterally true. Johnson and Lewis had been dogging each other since1984 when Lewis won the Olympic 100 meters and Johnson took the bronze.Johnson, after seven straight losses, finally beat Lewis the followingyear. They continued to have memorable clashes in Europe, most notablyin the 1987 World Championships in Rome when Johnson ran 9.83,shattering the world record by an absurd tenth of a second and bringinginto focus the outer limit of human achievement. After the race Lewisinsinuated darkly that Johnson was doping.
The press section inSeoul’s Olympic Stadium stretched from about the 10-meter to the90-meter mark but having the best seat in the house wasn’t good enoughfor me. I sneaked past security to trackside and stood at the 85-metermark, only a low fence separating me and the track. The vantage spotmade the race more personal. And perfect. Perhaps five meters beforethey reached me, Johnson, in lane six, turned his head slightly to hisleft to look for Lewis, in lane three, and I could see the hint of asmile when he couldn’t spot his rival. If Johnson hadn’t turned hishead, I suspect he would have run 9.75.
When Johnson didn’t showup for a press conference — he was in doping control, we were told –I didn’t think much about it. I would, of course, be forced to spendthe next 19 years thinking about it whenever the depressing subject ofsteroids came up, but all those drug stories have yet to move me asmuch as 9.79.