Athletics: Johnson banned for life by IAAF

Mike Rowbottom
Saturday 06 March 1993 01:02
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BEN JOHNSON was banned from competition for life yesterday after the International Amateur Athletic Federation's doping commission confirmed that he had tested positive for drugs for the second time in his career.

The commission met at short notice in Paris after reports this week that Johnson, who was stripped of the 1988 Olympic 100 metres title and world record and banned for two years for taking steroids, had an excessive level of the male hormone, testosterone, in his body, an indication of steroid abuse.

The IAAF general secretary, Istvan Gyulai, said: 'After extensive and thorough investigation, the commission unanimously determined that Ben Johnson tested positive after the meeting in Montreal on January 17.'

A second positive drug test automatically results in a life ban under IAAF rules. The five-man doping commission met in a Paris hotel under the chairmanship of Sweden's Arne Ljungqvist. He and three other members, Manfred Donike, of Germany, Antonio Del Monte, of Italy, and the Frenchman, Gabriel Dolle, are leading medical experts on doping in sport. The fifth member of the commission was the American lawyer, Frank Greenberg.

At issue was whether Johnson's level of testosterone, a male hormone which normally exists in the body at a ratio of 1:1 to its regulatory substance epitestosterone, was unnaturally high. A level of 6:1 is accepted as being artifically induced. Johnson's sample was 10.3 times the normal level.

Gyulai added that the IAAF would refer its findings to the governing body in Canada, Athletics Canada, to which Johnson, who has denied taking illegal substances since his return from suspension in 1991, could appeal.

One of Johnson's lawyers said: 'Mr Johnson stands by his earlier statement (of Wednesday) that he has taken no prohibited substances (since returning from suspension) and has engaged in no improper practices.' A further statement from Johnson is expected at a news conference tomorrow, though Johnson will not be attending.

A second positive test for Johnson, following the trauma of a first which soured the entire Seoul Olympics in 1988 and temporarily devastated the sport in his own country, is another high-profile embarrassment for athletics in general and the IAAF in particular, which is embroiled in potentially costly disputes over suspensions for drug abuse involving the world 400m champion, Butch Reynolds, and the double world sprint champion, Katrin Krabbe.

The affair is made even more damaging by the fact that Johnson, who eventually admitted long-term steroid abuse after his disgrace in Seoul, had professed to be clean of drugs since his return to the sport, and had gained public support by touring schools and colleges warning youngsters against taking drugs.

Johnson failed to recapture his 1988 form in the first two seasons after his comeback and he weighed substantially less after shedding much of his steroid-induced muscle bulk. But he seemed to be getting back to his best at the start of this year's indoor season - a time of 5.65sec for 50 metres was 0.04sec off the world record - but his bulkier muscles started rumours that he was taking drugs again.

The reaction in Canada, where most people had come to view Johnson's fall from grace in Seoul with sympathy, was vociferous. Paul Dupre, president of Athletics Canada, said the ruling was 'a tragic embarrassment to the world amateur sport movement and to Canada. Now this former athlete, alone, must assume the burden of this latest embarrassment.'

The Canadian Sports Minister, Pierre Cadieux, said: 'Ben Johnson will be ineligible for life for federal government sports funding and from participation in any sport in any role.'

Carl Lewis, who replaced Johnson as the 1988 Olympic 100m champion, had little sympathy. He said: 'If he used drugs I'm glad he got caught.' Lewis's business manager, Joe Douglas, added: 'I was suspicious because he started getting big again. . . When they start gaining weight and running faster that's a red flag. I hope this sends a strong message. After 1988, the goal was to encourage all federations to develop better drug testing. It appears to be working.'

Ed Moses, the former 400m hurdles Olympic gold medallist, said: 'This situation supports theories and published reports which claim the use of anabolic steroids leads to physical and emotional dependency and addiction.'

A spokesman for the International Olympic Committee, said after speaking to the IOC president, Juan-Antonio Samaranch, 'Doping is cheating, and cheats have no place in the Olympic movement.'

KEY DATES IN THE BEN JOHNSON STORY

1988, 24 Sept: Johnson wins gold in the 100m final at Seoul Olympics, setting a new world record of 9.79sec

27 Sept: IAAF suspends Johnson for two years after tests reveal traces of stanozolol, an anabolic steroid

1989, 28 Feb: Charlie Francis, Johnson's personal coach, tells an investigative committee that Johnson has been using drugs since 1981

5 Sept: The IAAF officially strips Johnson of his world records

1992, 7 Aug: Johnson finishes last in an Olympic semi-final in Barcelona

1993, 17 Jan: Johnson tests positive during an indoor meeting in Montreal

5 Mar: IAAF suspends Johnson from all competitions

(Photograph omitted)

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