Athletics: Johnson faces life ban over new drug claim

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The Independent Online
BEN JOHNSON, who was stripped of the 1988 Olympic 100 metres title in Seoul for taking steroids, faces a life ban from the sport if unconfirmed reports of a further positive drug test prove to be true.

The 31-year-old Canadian, who returned to sprinting in 1991 after serving a two-year suspension, was said by the Toronto Star newspaper to have been tested three times in January - twice in Canadian indoor championships and once out of competition.

The report alleged that a finding of suspiciously high levels of testosterone, an indication of steroid abuse, was followed by a further positive test for steroids at the accredited laboratory in Montreal. The International Amateur Athletic Federation's chief doping control officer, Bryan Wotton, was said to have been present in Montreal when Johnson's second sample was opened. Three independent sources confirmed that Johnson gave the positive test, the Star said.

The IAAF yesterday denied that it had any official confirmation that Johnson had tested positive, and Canadian athletics officials also expressed puzzlement, claiming that they had not been notified of any finding. However, an IAAF spokesman said last night that their doping commission would meet tomorrow in Paris to discuss, among other things, 'the results of a test on Ben Johnson in January this year'.

Confirming this Frank Greenberg, the American member of the IAAF's doping committee, said: 'The news is out and we can't keep it covered any longer.'

In a statement issued through his lawyers, Johnson denied taking any banned substance since his return to athletics.

Paul Dupre, of Athletics Canada, denied that his organisation, Canada's governing body for athletics, had received any confirmation of positive tests. 'We have been in contact with officials of the IAAF and have been informed that the ultimate authority on such matters for the IAAF, its doping commission, as of now has no positive test to communicate to this Federation for any Canadian athelete including sprinter Ben Johnson,' Dupre said.

However, a spokesman for Dupre said his comments only applied to positive confirmations and did not deny that there may have been some suspicious initial tests. But a source close to the IAAF suggested the Star's report was accurate.

'We would have been informed if there had been a positive test,' Brian Langley, chairman of Athletics Canada said. 'We talked to (the IAAF general secretary) Istvan Gyulai two days ago and he said there was no truth to it. I'm puzzled. There are too many missing blanks right now.'

Under the doping control procedures, all urine samples taken from athletes are divided into two parts. If a positive result is found in Part A of a sample, the Part B is also tested under rigorous supervision for confirmation.

Johnson's lawyers has also denied the report: 'Mr Johnson denies taking any prohibited substance or engaging in any improper practice since his return to competition,' the statement said.

Approached as he returned to his Toronto suburban home on Tuesday evening, Johnson told a reporter he had no comment and then, in salty language, ordered him to leave his property.

The report comes at a time, however, when Johnson appeared to be making a comeback on the indoor circuit after a disappointing performance in the Barcelona Olympics. He was stripped of his 100m gold medal in Seoul after testing positive for the banned steroid Stanozolol.

In a meeting on 7 February, he ran the 50 metres in 5.65sec, only 0.04 off the world record, but pulled a hamstring in Ghent three days later. On 19 February, he pulled out of a scheduled event in Winnipeg after saying he was fit to compete, a decision that raised questions at the time.

The Toronto Star story claims that Johnson was tested three times over six days in mid-January in Canada before leaving for races in Europe. At least one of those tests allegedly indicated a high testosterone level and prompted officials to ask Johnson to undergo a further test which also showed high testosterone levels.

The controversy has come at a difficult time for the IAAF, who are already embroiled in potentially costly disputes over doping suspensions with Butch Reynolds, the world 400 metres record holder, and Katrin Krabbe, the double world sprint champion.

It is a particularly unfortunate piece of bad publicity, given that the IAAF World Indoor Championships start in Johnson's home town a week tomorrow.

Johnson has never matched his previous levels of performance since returning to competition in January 1991. Having seen his 100m world record of 9.79sec from Seoul nullified, he has not run inside 10 seconds since, and he finished last in his 100 metres semi-final at the 1992 Olympics. Despite his recent 5.65sec in the 50 metres he failed to earn a place in the Canadian team for the World Indoor Championships after pulling out of the trials in Winnipeg the weekend before last.