Athletics: 'We will not forgive a second time': Hugh Winsor in Ottawa finds Canadians taking a hard line on Ben Johnson's latest disgrace

Click to follow
BEN JOHNSON's positive test for steroid use has not only ended his athletics career, it has also destroyed the myth of the poor Jamaican immigrant who repented for his past errors, was given a second chance, and regained his hero status by staying 'clean'.

There has been anger, disappointment and shame throughout Canada at the news of his life ban by the International Amateur Athletic Federation. 'We are all carrying the burden of this embarrassment,' Paul Dupre, the president of Athletics Canada, the sport's governing body in Canada, said. Johnson, he added, had let down those who supported his reinstatement in the national athletics programme following his two- year suspension after the 1988 Seoul Olympics. Victor Lachance, the president of the Canadian Centre for Drug-Free Sport which conducted the testing, said the incident had demonstrated how hard it is to change well-entrenched behaviour.

'This emphasizes the need for early intervention among those who have not yet participated in organised sport so they will not be influenced by others using banned substances,' he said.

Disappointment is not limited to the athletics community. In contrast to the public tears and disbelief after Seoul, Canadians are taking a harder stance this time.

As one youngster at the D R Kennedy Public School in Ottawa said after the IAAF decision was announced in Paris: 'The first time I was pretty mad at him but now he has completely blown it.' Another student said, 'We're embarrassed. We have forgiven him once, but not a second time.'

Greg Jark, a decathlete from Ottawa, said he was annoyed by the attention on Johnson. 'He had his chance and he blew it. The spotlight has been on him since then and there are a lot of other athletes who deserve the spotlight.'

The sprinter's present coach, Camil Lauson, said he was at a loss to explain the test. 'Ben has to come forward . . . It is very sad. I thought he had been doing very well.' Another Ontario sports official, Cecil Smith, said: 'It is not enough to castigate Ben, we should also find out who gave him the drugs.'

Johnson, speaking through his lawyer, still contended yesterday that he had not used any banned substances or engaged in any improper practices.

His lawyers will hold a press conference today to indicate whether or not he will appeal. But the mystique has already gone and the Canadian minister for fitness and amateur sport, Pierre Cadieux, announced that Johnson will be immediately cut off from federal funding.

Johnson has refused all comment personally. Moreover, he has not helped his image by driving around in the expensive Ferrari sports car he purchased with money he obtained for equipment endorsements in the palmier days or by swearing at the television crews parked outside his residence.

The runner also initially denied any drug use after Seoul. But several months later, when testifying before a special royal commission established to study the whole problem of doping in amateur sport, Johnson admitted he had lied, saying he was confused by all the pressure. He then promised that if he was given the chance to compete again: 'I will be able to beat anyone - clean.'

Canadians gave him the benefit of the doubt. After disappointing at last summer's Olympics in Barcelona, he appeared recently to be making a comeback on the indoor circuit and was receiving a lot of positive attention.

Not only did he stress in recent interviews that he had remained clean (while boasting that he could regain his old stature), but he was also participating in a programme to warn younger athletes about the dangers of doping. Ironically, he was caught by the improved testing programme run by the Canadian Centre For Drug- Free Sport, an independent organisation established following the royal commission.

Some critics have argued, however, that tougher enforcement procedures are not enough. John Cannon, the national sprint coach, said Johnson should have also been given counselling. 'Maybe he should have been helped to have lower expectations and to understand that winning a gold medal is not the only answer.'

Without this sort of help, it is argued, Johnson slipped back into the pattern of taking peformance- enhancing substances that had worked for him before.