For everyone, the case had been closed for a long time. Not for him. In his head, Ben Johnson remains the Olympic champion of Seoul in 1988. Thirty years since it was launched. “Only my loved ones know how difficult it is,” says the former Canadian sprinter between two evocations of the Lord. God and his friends, the only supporters for three decades spent wandering on earth, on screens and in the media with the bib of the “perfect doped”. Today, the declassification of confidential documents, buried in the archives of the IOC and Canadian authorities, gives him renewed hope. Ben Johnson knows a little better what happened at the end of September 1988. This is enough to call into question what remains as the greatest scandal in the history of doping? At 57 years old, the now grandfather wants to believe it.
Flash-back mode “Cold Case”. On September 27, 1998, the International Olympic Committee announced the disqualification and exclusion of the winner of the 100-metre race, who tested positive for anabolic steroids. Also forgotten is his fabulous world record of 9”79, set to beat the legend of the moment, “King” Carl Lewis. The explosion is thundering. And Carl Lewis, the American, became Olympic champion on the green carpet.
Between the race and the sentence of the IOC Medical Commission, chaired by Prince Alexander of Merode, only three days passed, which definitively transformed the hero into a pariah. At that time, an athlete who tested positive did not have the opportunity to appeal. While public opinion was discovering doping, the fight against it was also in its infancy.
“When I was told that the substance found was stanozololol, I fell from the sky! Because we had never used this substance before. Hence the question: how did it get into my body?” Ben Johnson
With his coach Charlie Francis, now deceased, the sprinter finds only one explanation: a third party gave him the steroids. When? When? Where? Mystery. Nevertheless, this is the thesis that Dick Pound, a lawyer, then Canadian Vice-President of the IOC and later the first President of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), who defended him before the Medical Commission, will defend.
For months, the accused denied having used doping products. It was not until 1989, before the Commission of Inquiry chaired by Judge Charles Dubin, appointed by the government to examine the entrails of doping in Canada, that Ben Johnson admitted to the regular use of steroids. While maintaining that in Seoul, he was clean. In the meantime, the sprinter has been suspended for two years. It returned to tartans in 1991, before being tested positive again in 1993. Lifetime suspension. The mass is said.
However, the case bounced back in 2012
…when Joe Douglas, Carl Lewis’ coach, admitted in the documentary “9.79” that he had provided a “pass” to Andre Jackson, a close friend of the American champion, allowing him access to the control room. It is also this information that leads Mary Ormsby, an investigative journalist with the Toronto Star, to investigate this case.
In 2016, she published her first article explaining how Andre Jackson deceived security to spy on Ben Johnson before he gave his urine. The second part of his investigation was released in September 2018, with the release of Ben Johnson’s medical file contained in the 600 pages of the Dubin report. It is also the first time Ben Johnson has seen the “Korean” report that caused him to fall. In 1988, he and several members of the Canadian delegation had asked to consult him. But no one had ever received it before.
Deletions and handwritten inscriptions
Upon reading it, Ben Johnson said he was shocked. According to him, this is proof that he was the man to be shot. To support his comments, he highlighted the multiple deletions in the 31-page document. Here, his anonymous code number – 24-66 – is added by hand. There, the printed code is traced and his added on top. On yet another, the name of the identified and printed steroid is oxandrolone – which Ben Johnson also denies having used -, also crossed out in pen and replaced by a handwritten “stanozolol” at the end of an arrow.
“If we had seen this at the time, we would have protested,” says the Canadian.
Could the alterations in the document have changed the course of history? “Possible,” Richard Pound admitted in the Toronto Star, but said he would have been “embarrassed” by the fact that a guilty person would pass between the drops because of legal arguments.
Was the medical commission at the time aware of these elements? A start was not made until January 2019 and the minutes of its daily meetings were declassified between 14 September and 1 October 1988.