Simon Turnbull: Chasing drug cheats is still part of race to be fastest in world

Olympic Diary

So here we go again: getting ready for another global 100 metre contest on South Korean soil. As the clock ticks down to Sunday's men's 100m final at the pre-Olympic-year World Athletics Championships in Daegu, the mind inevitably sprints back to Seoul and late September 1988.

Sitting in the Olympic Stadium in the South Korean capital back then, on pen-pushing duty for the Newcastle Journal and the rest of the Thomson Regional Newspapers group, there was the jaw-dropping moment when the big, be-muscled Ben Johnson left Carl Lewis looking like a school sports day also-ran as he powered to victory in the world record shattering time of 9.79sec.

Then, two days later, came the bombshell news that Johnson had failed a drugs test. It dropped at 4am local time, when the majority of residents in the media village were fast asleep, dreaming of what to do on the rest day to come in the track-and-field programme.

The shock was not that Johnson had been fuelled by unnatural products – the anabolic steroid stanozolol – but that the drug testers had managed to catch up with the Canadian. By dawn, we were chasing across town by taxi, to doorstep an emergency meeting of the International Olympic Committee at the Shilla Hotel, then on to the Hilton – only to discover that Johnson had packed his bags and flown his nest in the night.

Resembling scenes from a Marx Brothers movie, the global press corps moved from corridor to corridor, lobby to lounge, breakfast room to powder room, seeking any connected character who might be able to pass comment. Lewis would not leave his room but Tom Tellez, his coach, said the American had been "chemically beaten".

Then it was back in the taxi and off to the athletes' village on the eastern side of town. Linford Christie had crossed the line third in the final, behind Johnson and Lewis, and was in line for an upgrade from bronze to silver. He was not greatly amused to be confronted by the massed ranks of the British press corps while emerging from the British team headquarters to make his way to the breakfast room. "I can't believe I've woken up to all of this," he said.

Back at the Shilla Hotel, at 10am, the IOC announced Johnson's disqualification. "A sad, sad day for athletics," echoed athlete after athlete, official after official, as reaction to the story continued throughout what ought to have been a day of some rest. "It was a day gladly sacrificed," I wrote at the time. "It was a day of hope for the future: the day the sporting cheats started running for cover."

Twenty-three years on, that naive hope has turned to resigned frustration. The doping picture has become such a convoluted mess in athletics that the men's 100m at the looming World Championships will feature an athlete who has not one but two drug convictions on his record (the American Justin Gatlin) and another (Britain's Dwain Chambers) who is eliciting widespread sympathy because he is being barred from events that other reinstated offenders are free to contest.

It is a welcome move that the International Association of Athletics Federations, the global governing body, has taken the innovative move of subjecting all 2,000 athletes competing in Daegu to blood tests. This is in addition to the 500 urine samples that will be taken in and out of competition during the championships.

Still, the reality is that some athletes will keep trying to take the metaphorical piss between now and the close of business at the London Olympics, on 12 August next year. The absence of the Jamaican Steve Mullings and the American Mike Rodgers from the 100m field in Daegu will be confirmation of that much.

Both have been caught in the drugs net in recent weeks – the one that snared big bad Ben in South Korea back in 1988.

News
A 1930 image of the Karl Albrecht Spiritousen and Lebensmittel shop, Essen. The shop was opened by Karl and Theo Albrecht’s mother; the brothers later founded Aldi
people
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmA cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Arts and Entertainment
Flora Spencer-Longhurst as Lavinia, William Houston as Titus Andronicus and Dyfan Dwyfor as Lucius
theatreThe Shakespeare play that proved too much for more than 100 people
News
exclusivePunk icon Viv Albertine on Sid Vicious, complacent white men, and why free love led to rape
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Stir crazy: Noel Fielding in 'Luxury Comedy 2: Tales from Painted Hawaii'
comedyAs ‘Luxury Comedy’ returns, Noel Fielding on why mainstream success scares him and what the future holds for 'The Boosh'
Life and Style
Flow chart: Karl Landsteiner discovered blood types in 1900, yet scientists have still not come up with an explanation for their existence
lifeAll of us have one. Yet even now, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Arts and Entertainment
'Weird Al' Yankovic, or Alfred Matthew, at the 2014 Los Angeles Film Festival Screening of
musicHis latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do our experts think he’s missed out?
Sport
New Real Madrid signing James Rodríguez with club president Florentino Perez
sportColombian World Cup star completes £63m move to Spain
Travel
Hotel Tour d’Auvergne in Paris launches pay-what-you-want
travelIt seems fraught with financial risk, but the policy has its benefits
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe best children's books for this summer
Life and Style
News to me: family events were recorded in the personal columns
techFamily events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped that
News
news
News
i100
Caption competition
Caption competition
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn