Budding champion who emulated his fallen hero: Mike Rowbottom looks at the sprinter Jason Livingston's short career and ironic choice of role-model

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The Independent Online
JASON LIVINGSTON, the 21- year-old British sprinter who wanted to follow in Ben Johnson's running shoes, fulfilled his dream earlier than expected.

Livingston, who stands at 5ft 6ins (1.68m), applauded Johnson's achievements on the track while condemning his use of drugs. The stocky Canadian was stripped of the 100 metre gold medal at the Seoul Olympics after failing a dope test. 'One of my dreams is to run as well as Johnson did, to run as fast as he did and to win the titles he did. But I intend to do it cleanly,' Livingston said recently. 'What he did was wrong and we all know that. He deserved to be punished.'

It now appears that Livingston, just like Johnson, decided that talent was not enough.

When Livingston arrived on the athletics scene as a promising junior in 1989 he brought with him an engaging freshness. He was happy to talk about his hopes and aspirations, and oddly proud of the fact that Johnson was his idol.

As a teenager in Thornton Heath, where he was brought up by his grandparents following the break-up of his parents' marriage, Livingston covered the walls of his room with Johnson's pictures. He even shaved his head in the same manner; but while he looked intimidating, the image vanished when he spoke. While Johnson growled, Livingston chattered.

Money has generally been tight for Livingston, who in 1990 lost his job in the post room of the Daily Mirror after missing work to compete in an indoor meeting at Cosford. But following his first major success this February, when he won the 60 metres event at the European Indoor Championships in Genoa, he began to assume the higher profile which enables athletes to generate financial assistance.

Prior to the Olympics, the Croydon Advertiser, his local paper, raised about pounds 9,000 for his preparations. He also received pounds 5,000 from Texaco under a scheme administered by the Daily Mail to help young athletes.

Clearly there will be speculation now about the way his performances have improved. In his early years the curve of improvement was steady and consistent. In 1987 he won the British youth indoor AAA title; he took bronze in the 1989 European junior championships and silver in the world junior championships the following year.

Last year's world championships were a disappointment - he went out in the first round and was not picked for the relay squad - but he seemed happier with life after joining the group overseen by Ron Roddan, the man who has coached Christie to his successes. 'It had a big effect on me,' he said. 'Linford has helped my training a lot.'

But Livingston was never more than a fringe figure in the group, and when Roddan and Christie went out to Australia this winter for an eight-week spell of training, Livingston cut a rather isolated and dejected figure, staying with his aunt in Croydon and training on his own at Crystal Palace.

At the European Indoor Championships, he complained that he was not seeing anything of Roddan. And other members of the group have said that he was not seen around the west London stadium where they work out since April.

Livingston turned for assistance to a former member of Roddan's group, Tony Lestor. He has always been a marvellously fast starter - just like Johnson - but after 60 metres he was usually overhauled by bigger athletes.

This summer, however, his personal best for the 100 metres came down from 10.25 to 10.09 seconds, a time he recorded at the Southern Area championships at Crystal Palace. Christie, whose then best time for the season was slower, reacted with surprise.

On that form, a place in the Olympic semi-final at least looked on for Livingston. But he will not make the semi-final at this or any other Olympic Games.

Now the punishment Livingston faces is worse than that which Johnson had to endure. While the suspension period for steroid abuse has been extended from two to four years for a first offence, the British Olympic Association made a unilateral decision to ban athletes who test positive from any future Games.

(Photograph omitted)