All these years later, is Ben a sympathetic figure? Nope

All these years later, is Ben a sympathetic figure? Nope
I’m a day or two late to this because I’ve been busy or loafing or some combination of the two but the great Mary Ormsby was back on it with yet another outstanding installment in the Ben Johnson Saga earlier this week.

Even after all these years and all this time, it’s hard for me to come up with one Canadian athlete who is as polarizing as Johnson remains today.

Remember how high the entire country was that Friday night? I’m 60 years old, that late-night race is matched only by the 1972 Summit Series, Donovan Bailey’s gold in Atlanta and that Gretzky-Lemieux goal in whatever Canada Cup it was in Hamilton as galvanizing “Canadian” moments. You can probably toss the first World Series on that list to get to a Top Five.

And remember how decimated we were when word broke that Johnson had failed a drug test? That was as low a national sports moment as I can recall, or imagine.

And, still, all these years later, it goes on.

I have a bit of working knowledge of the story, actually. I was on the desk at the Toronto Sun in 1988 and know very, very well how two of the best investigative sports journalists around at that time – Beezer and The Pick – worked tirelessly the doping issues and Ben and Charley and it is remains the greatest Canadian sports story never told.

Let me say that the reaction a few of us had when Johnson tested positive in Seoul was, to put not too fine an edge on it – less than shocking.

So with that background and with a passing interest in doping and athletics, I’m just going throw this out there and duck:

I believe there were likely shenanigans with Johnson’s test in Seoul and I can say with as much certainty as I can muster that he was not the only drug cheat in that race.

But whether absolute due process was followed in those weeks and days after the scintillating 100 metre final, and whether or not others – read Americans backed by tab-paying NBC – got away with stuff? I think it can be fairly assumed no, it wasn’t and, yes, they did.

But what does it mean? Are we now supposed to feel that Johnson was somehow “wronged” by greater powers at the defining moment of his sporting career? Is sympathy retroactive? So many felt cheated by him at that time and those feelings were real. Decades later, I don’t think any circumstances should change that. Whether he was dirty at that particular moment is almost moot to me. This, as we came to know in the cathartic moments of the Dubin Inquiry, was not a one-off thing, it was systemic.

The IOC turns a blind eye to everything these days and we are rightfully angry and scornful and see them as this evil, heads-in-the-sand organization bent on self-preservation and profit.
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