On the Beijing Beat: Big Bad Ben ready to bare Seoul two decades on...
Friday 15 August 2008
It is not exactly the first time that Ben Johnson has been brought to book. Indeed, tomorrow's eagerly awaited men's 100 metres final in the "Bird's Nest" stadium will mark the 20th anniversary of the notorious occasion on which the Canadian speed merchant went "From hero to zero in 9.79 seconds", as the headline in the Toronto Sun memorably put it.
Two decades on from his steroid-fuelled world record Olympic run, Big Bad Ben is busy working on his autobiography, Seoul to Soul. "The book will include explosive information and confessions surrounding the events in Seoul and the aftermath," the 46-year-old promises.
Since testing positive after his comeback from suspension and getting banned for life in 1993, Johnson has been involved in a variety of unlikely projects. He has worked as a personal trainer to the footballing son of the Libyan leader, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi (his publicist's forecast that he would win a Nobel Peace Prize for it fell slightly short of the mark), and been hired to promote an energy drink called Cheetah Surge Power.
"I cheetah all of the time," was his punchline in a television advertisement.
Chambers quicker off writer's blocks
Dwain Chambers has never cheetah-ed his way to tainted Olympic gold, but he has been quicker out of his starting blocks than Ben Johnson. Having won the 100m final at the British Olympic trials in Birmingham last month but subsequently seen his Beijing selection quashed in the High Court, the Londoner has been making use of his gardening leave from life in the fast lane by penning an autobiography with publishers Libros International. With a working title of My Way, Chambers says in a synopsis that he will "name names" on the drugs front, and tell tales of his womanising. "I also tell how I slept with the sister of an England footballer and a gold medal-winning athlete from America," he writes. "And read about that one and only disaster date with Kelly Holmes."
Memories of night I beat Johnson
No tales of that nature to tell here (honest, Mrs Turnbull). Your diarist cannot match Dwain Chambers on that particular scoring front, but he can boast of the night he beat Ben Johnson. The setting was the Villa Miani overlooking Rome. It was the rest day at the 1987 World Championship. Three days after his world record 100m run of 9.83sec down the road in the Stadio Olimpico, the not-yet-so-bad Big Ben – clad in designer suit – removed his leather slip-ons, donned a pair of running spikes, and got to his marks on a four-lane 10m strip of synthetic track laid out at the foot of the villa steps. His reaction time off the starting blocks was 0.184sec. The gauntlet had been thrown for any have-a-go guests to challenge. The Durham County Schools' 100m champion of 1976 managed it in 0.158sec. And he was never in danger of testing positive for anything stronger than EPO – ahem, Evening Primrose Oil, that is.
Word on the street
Given name: Yufan.
Birthplace: Tianjin, visiting Beijing for the day.
Occupation: Chuzhong or middle school student.
Interview conducted during a downpour at the Shunyi Olympic Water Park.
How much attention have you been paying to the Games? Quite a bit; it's all over the TV, you can't miss it. Today we have come to Beijing especially to watch the rowing. I don't know much about rowing and can't name any rowers, but they were the only tickets we could get. We left it a bit late so my mum and I had to buy them on the Internet. We got them for face value so that wasn't too bad.
The weather's terrible, how do you feel about today? So disappointed! Not much I can do about it though, hopefully, they will let us back tomorrow. Transport has been a nightmare – there were so many buses but they were only filling them one by one! I saw a lot of people with British flags, they didn't seem very happy either.
Apart from China, are there any other teams or sportsmen that you feel strongly about, and why? Not really. I often go for the underdog. I would support Britain if they had a football team. Hong Kong and Taiwan enter separately – why can't England do that?
What are the best and worst things about the Olympic Games in Beijing? It's a chance to show the world just how friendly we are and that we are capable of pulling such a big thing off. As for the bad things: there are too many people around and it has cost us a lot of money.
The detention earlier this week of the ITN reporter John Ray during a pro-Tibet demonstration should, perhaps, have come as no surprise. According to an article in Beijing's leading financial magazine Caijing, in the eyes of some of the Olympic volunteers responsible for receiving the Western media, foreign journalists are no different from "fierce floods and savage beasts".
The article describes how the volunteers have been allegedly trained to face the media. They are told, for example, that where possible they should respond to journalists' questions with a polite: "I do not know the specific circumstances." The report quotes one volunteer who says that it is his job to "prevent drugs, prevent bombs and prevent journalists".
There has been no official reaction to these claims but online opinion has begun to raise doubts over the report's accuracy. Although the volunteers we spoke to were not willing to confirm the main points of the article, we did not hear a single "I do not know the specific circumstances".
Today at the Games
09.30 Track cycling
Competition at the velodrome gets under way with qualifying for the team sprint, in which Britain has high hopes of a medal. It could be the first of three for Chris Hoy, who also races in the individual sprint and keirin. The first round is at 10.45 and the finals are at 11.40.
07.10 Rowing Three more British boats attempt to reach the finals in semi-finals postponed from yesterday: the lightweight women's double sculls (08.30), the lightweight men's double sculls (08.50) and the lightweight men's four (09.20).
11.57 Swimming Men's 1500m freestyle heats, including Britain's David Davies (pictured), a bronze winner in Athens.
14.00 Hockey Britain's men need a result against South Africa after their unlucky defeat against the Dutch.
What you may have missed overnight...
03.16 Swimming Men's 200m backstroke final. Britain's Gregor Tait was among the finalists for the second successive Olympics.
03.45 Swimming Men's 200m individual medley final, with Michael Phelps seeking gold No 6 of these Games. James Goddard and Liam Tancock were swimming for Britain.
04.01 Swimming Women's 100m freestyle final, featuring another of Team GB's promising teenagers, Fran Halsall.
04.15 Gymnastics Women's individual all-around final.
04.35 Archery Britain's Alan Wills was competing in the last 16 of the men's individual event. Quarter-finals at 09.00, semi-finals at 09.52 and medal contests at 10.21.
05.00 Judo Britain's Karina Bryant had hopes of a medal in the women's over 78kg category. The final starts at 11.00.
05.00 Sailing Following yesterday's postponed racing, Britain's Ben Ainslie and the Yngling crew continue to defend their leads.
Coming up later today...
09.55 Track cycling Qualifying for the men's individual pursuit, with Bradley Wiggins defending his Olympic title. Steven Burke also goes for Britain.
11.00 Track cycling Britain's Rebecca Romero, who is world champion, and Wendy Houvenaghel attempt to qualify in the women's individual pursuit.
11.30 Swimming Women's 50m freestyle heats, including Britain's Fran Halsall in her preferred discipline.
12.15 Equestrianism Showjumping qualifying.
14.00 Football China's women take on Japan in the pick of the quarter-finals.
If you want to stay up late tonight...
03.07 Swimming Michael Phelps races in his seventh final, the 100m butterfly, followed by the women's 800m.
A hot and humid day with rain likely. Temperatures will reach 31C.
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