"I jump into a sand pit for a living"
Memorable Olympic Moments
1988 Men's 100 metres
The final of the men's 100 metres in the 1988 Olympics was an eagerly awaited race. However, it proved to be an infamous race that is still vividly remembered and talked about. In 1984 Carl Lewis had won the 100 metres in 9.99. Ben Johnson had taken the bronze in 10.22.
In 1985 Johnson defeated Carl Lewis for the first time - after losing to him in seven consecutive races. Ironically he was quoted as saying, "I want to be the best on my own natural ability and no drugs will pass into my body." In 1987, Johnson won the World Championship in a time of 9.83. This was no surprise as he had beaten Lewis in their last four meetings.
The 1988 Olympic 100 metres race was billed as a great duel between the two men. Lewis was the reigning Olympic champion, and Johnson the World Champion and the World record holder. However, in reality it was a one-sided duel. Johnson was far ahead of Lewis and was proving it regularly.
1988 turned out to be a wretched year for Johnson. He suffered a hamstring injury in February, but recovered only to aggravate it in May. The September Olympics were getting closer. When Carl Lewis ran 9.99 in June he could fairly state, "I am running better than ever and Ben isn't running at all."
In August the pair met in Rome. Lewis won in 9.93 with Johnson third. With characteristic modesty, Lewis said, "The gold medal is mine. I will never again lose to Johnson."
By the time the Olympic final came round, it was a more even prospect. During the previous two years Johnson had the edge, but current form favoured Lewis. The final was scheduled scarcely 90 minutes after the semi-finals. Lewis won one semi in 9.97, Johnson the other in 10.03.
The race was a thrilling piece of sport. Some Olympic events last for hours where one mistake is not important - there is time to make up for it. The 100 metres is different. It is over in ten seconds. There is no second chance. A slow start, a slight stumble and the race is gone. The tension before the start is almost unbearable. There was some wind but it was within the legal limit. Any world record would stand.
Carl Lewis, the defending champion, undefeated in 1988, liked to be the last to settle into his blocks. He liked to make the others wait, to unsettle them. This time Johnson out-Lewises him, and Johnson is the last to the blocks. Last into the blocks and first out of them. He reacts in 0.132 to Lewis's 0.136. Johnson is increasing his lead. Johnson reaches 60 metres in 6.37, Lewis in 6.51. Johnson is travelling at 26.95 mph. At 80 metres Johnson is 0.17 ahead. For the first time in the race Lewis is running faster. Five metres short of the line Johnson puts his arm in the air to celebrate his victory.
Johnson won! He broke the world record. Calvin Smith ran a brilliant 9.99 but finished out of the medals. It was simply the fastest anyone had ever run. 47 strides had taken Johnson from the gun to the tape. The results were:
- Ben Johnson 9.79
- Carl Lewis 9.92
- Linford Christie 9.97
- Calvin Smith 9.99
In another of those great ironies, when Johnson was later asked which meant more to him, the world record or the gold medal, he replied, "The medal. It is something that no one can take away from you."
Afterwards Johnson was asked for a urine sample, which was then analysed in the IOC accredited laboratory in Seoul. Following standard procedure, the sample was divided into two - the A and B. The A was analysed and the B was retained. A large number of samples were tested during the Games, all identified anonymously with a code number. The laboratory provided results by code number - having no idea whose sample was being tested.
The director of the laboratory, Dr Jongsei Park, informed the IOC chairman of the Medical commission, Prince Alexandre de Merode that sample number xxx had tested positive. [The race was in the early afternoon of Saturday 24 September. Prince Alexandre was informed of the result at 23.00 on 25 September].
The Prince retrieved the list of codes, linking athletes to samples, from his safe. It is hard to imagine his reaction when he saw the name of Ben Johnson, the winner of the highest profile event in the Games, staring up at him.
He wrote a letter to the Canadian chef de mission, Carol Anne Letheren. She was awakened to receive it at 1.45am on Monday 26 September. By 7.00am she had consulted the Canadian chief medical officer and others in the team, including Johnson's coach and physician. Three members of the delegation exercised their right to be present at the examination of the B sample. It was also positive. The samples contained 90 nanograms of an anabolic steroid called stanozolol.
Further meetings took place and as the Canadian delegation could offer no explanation of the test result, Johnson was stripped of his medal and on the Tuesday morning (27 September), three days after the final, was on his way home, a disgraced athlete.
Ben Johnson was born in Jamaica in 1961. At the age of 15 he emigrated with his family to Canada. The following year he met Charlie Francis, a former world-class sprinter, who became his coach, staying with him all through his career.
In 1982 Johnson won silver at the Commonwealth Games, in 1984 the Olympic bronze and in 1986 the Commonwealth gold, before becoming world champion in 1987.
At some point along the line Francis suggested to Johnson that he take steroids to improve his performance. Francis is said to have told him that steroids could give him a metre's advantage - ironically the distance by which he defeated Lewis in 1988. Looked at from another point of view, if he could beat Lewis by a metre with the aid of the drug, one wonders whether he could have sneaked a victory without?
Fifteen years on, the race is still remembered. The Times ran a series of articles in September 2002 to mark the 15th anniversary. Johnson recently revisited Seoul for the first time since 1988 to make a TV documentary. Much has been written about the race in the intervening period, and some things are clearer, others more mysterious than ever.
At the time, the received wisdom was that Johnson had cheated to gain an edge over seven clean and innocent athletes in that final. With hindsight, that may not be an entirely accurate picture. There is no evidence that any of the others was benefiting from an illegal substance in 1988. However Dennis Mitchell and Linford Christie subsequently tested positive. Carl Lewis was never found guilty but there have been persistent rumours of positive tests being hushed up.
In fact Linford Christie tested positive in the 200 metres at Seoul but claimed that the cause was ginseng tea. The IOC gave him 'the benefit of the doubt'. Ben Johnson was to say later, "Linford got away with it in 1988. Why should Ben Johnson pay the price for everyone else doing the same thing? The only way they could get rid of Ben Johnson was to come up with an excuse like a banned substance I have never used in my life."
Calvin Smith, who finished fourth, told The Times that he was arguably the real winner because of the doubt about the three who beat him. He said, "Throughout the last five or ten years of my career, I knew I was being denied the chance to show that I was the best clean runner. I knew I was competing against athletes who were on drugs." Ray Stewart, who finished eighth in the final, also expressed the view that drug-taking was rife in 1988 and that fingers pointing at Johnson were just as dirty as Ben himself.
Having denied any involvement with drugs at the time, Johnson and his advisers have subsequently admitted that he had used steroids since 1981. Charlie Francis, Johnson's coach, stated that Ben was on a drugs programme but vehemently denied that he was on the type or quantity of drug for which he tested positive. Francis added, "Everyone broke the rules, why pick on one or two?"
However, this admission raised as many questions as it solved, questions like these:
1. Knowing that if he won a medal he was likely to be tested, why would he have taken a drug immediately before the final? [Johnson's camp later said that he had taken his last drug 26 days before the race ñ to ensure that all traces were out of his system.]
2. If he was going to take a drug, why stanozol, which would not have enhanced his performance? [Johnson's camp said he was taking furazobol, not stanozol.]
Several theories have been put forward to explain the positive test:
- Johnson panicked before the race and took stanozol from his own private supply of drugs, believing it would help him.
- Francis, and Johnson's other advisers, are not telling the truth.
- Sabotage -someone spiked his drink or his sample.
- The sample that tested positive was not Johnson's.
Owen Slot and John Goodbody concluded their Times series with, "That Johnson cheated is beyond doubt. We have his own word on that. But how and why he was caught, we may never know."
1980 - Men's 800 and 1500 metres
1980 found British middle distance running on the crest of a wave. Seb Coe and Steve Ovett were the top two in the world in their events. The anticipated head-to-head battles between the two in the 800 and 1500m were the most eagerly anticipated races of the Olympic Games.
The pair's dominance of the events was total. Ovett had not been beaten over 1500m and the mile for 42 races, leading up to the Olympics. In 1979 Coe had broken the 800, 1500 and mile world records inside a groundbreaking 41 days. That the two rivals had not raced each other for two years only added to the aura surrounding the Moscow clashes.
The outcome was both expected and unexpected as Coe and Ovett each won gold. The surprise element was that each won his supposed weaker event.
The first event was the 800. Coe recognises that he was the favourite, "I was, by some distance, the fastest on paper over 800, but the Olympic Games is historically one the most brutal disregarders of current form and status."
In a slow 800m final it was Ovett who took gold. Ovett was in sixth place after one lap, but fought through the crowd to be second on the final bend. With 70 metres left he shot past Coe to win by three metres.
Coe, who had left the final charge too late after struggling to read the race, was left to reflect on a personal tactical nightmare. "I have always said that if you wanted to commit every cardinal sin that it was possible to commit at 800m inside a minute-and-three-quarters, thatís the video to watch," said Coe, who had to settle for silver.
Having won the 800 and with his stronger event to come, Ovett was odds-on favourite to complete the double - but it was not to be. Afterwards, Seb Coe admitted that it had taken a lot of effort to pick himself up, after the disappointment of his failure to win the 800. It helped that he had an opportunity to get back on the track quickly.
Coe recalls telling himself on the eve of the 1500 that "there are no tomorrows". It was all or nothing on the day.
On the final curve, Coe kicked into the lead and held off the challenge of Ovett and surprise silver medallist Jurgen Straub. He said afterwards, "It was complete relief that you've got there and you are going to go away from the Games with a gold medal."
Four years later in Los Angeles, Coe became the first man successfully to defend his 1500m crown. Ovett had a wretched time in 1984. Suffering from bronchitis, he barely made the final. He finished eighth, but collapsed and spent two nights in hospital. Showing great courage, he ran in the 1500, reached the final and was in contention in the final lap before collapsing with chest pains.
By the time he retired, Coe had four Olympic medals and 12 world records to show for his athletics career. His career came to a sad end when, as reigning Olympic 1500 metres champion (1980 and 1984), he failed to gain selection for the GB team for the 1988 Olympics.
1984 Women's 3,000 metres
The 3,000 metres for women has only been held three times in the Olympics - 1984, 1988 and 1992. The first ever women's Olympic 3,000 metres was won by Maricica Puica from Wendy Sly of Great Britain, with Lynn Williams taking bronze. However, the sad fact is that no one remembers any of them. The race is better remembered for an incident between Zola Budd and Mary Decker.
Mary Decker was a champion middle-distance runner, stunning track fans and competitors alike with her seemingly effortless, long, loping strides, strong finishes, and tenacious determination. In 1982 she broke seven world and American records, at distances ranging from 800 to 10,000 meters. Unbeaten during 1980-83, at one time she held the American records for the mile and for 800, 1,500, 3,000, 5,000, and 10,000 metres. She completed the 1,500 and 3,000 metres double at the 1983 World Championships.
The only thing missing from her CV was an Olympic medal - even an Olympic appearance. Decker had never run in an Olympic race. In 1972 she was too young, being only 14. In 1976 she was injured. In 1980 the US boycotted the Moscow Olympics. With the 1984 Olympics in her home country - and in LA, the city where she'd grown up - she was a strong favourite. At 26 she was in her prime.
Zola Budd grew up in South Africa under apartheid. South Africa was, at that stage, in the middle of the period of banishment from the Olympics (1960-92). As a barefoot teenager she started breaking records when she was 13. In January 1984 she ran 5,000 metres in 15 minutes 1.83 seconds - seven seconds faster than Mary Decker's existing world record. However, as South Africa was excluded from world athletics, the time could not be recognised as a world record.
Determined to compete at the 1984 Olympics, Budd applied for British citizenship on the grounds that she had a British grandfather. Amidst controversy she was fast-tracked through the system and awarded a passport in time to run for Britain in the Olympics.
Budd and Decker eased into the final with Decker the more impressive. Her semi-final win in 8:44.38 had been, as she put it, "Effortless - except for Lynn Williams [of Canada] stepping on my heel four times." She said she was looking for about an 8:29 pace in the final. Budd was not a renowned fast-finisher. She wanted a fast race.
One incident lightened the tension for Budd on the day of the Olympic final. The athletes in the 3,000 metres final had to show their running spikes to an official, whose task it was to see that the spikes conformed to specifications. Zola recalls, "I was barefoot, so I just picked up my feet and showed them to him, white plasters on my toes and all. The poor man nearly cracked up laughing, but what else could I have done? Everybody else had spikes and I had to show him something."
The race began. At halfway the main contenders looked good. Decker's tactics were to step up the pace with 1000 metres to go, in order to neutralise Puica's fast finish. So far so good. Budd was outside Decker's right shoulder - where she had been almost from the start. They had bumped elbows at 500 metres, a result of Buddís wide-swinging arm action, and Decker had shot her a sharp look.
At about 1,600 metres, Budd started to make her presence felt. As Decker said later, "She was cutting in on the turn, without being near passing." Kenny Moore, of Sports Illustrated magazine, describes what happened next. "By the end of the turn, Budd appeared to have enough margin to cut in without interfering with Decker's stride, but instead she hung wide, on the outside of Lane 1, as they came into the stretch. Decker was near the rail, a yard behind Budd. Budd's team-mate, Wendy Sly, had come up to third, off Budd's shoulder, and Puica was fourth, tucked in tight behind Decker, waiting".
"Decker sensed Budd drifting to the inside. 'She tried to cut in without being, basically, ahead,' Decker would say. But Decker didn't do what a seasoned middle-distance runner would have done. She didn't reach out to Budd's shoulder to let her know she was there, too close behind for Budd to move to the pole. Instead, Decker shortened her stride for a couple of steps. There was contact. Decker's right thigh grazed Budd's left foot. Budd took five more strides, slightly off balance. Trying to regain control, she swayed in slightly to the left. Decker's right foot struck Budd's left calf, low, just above the Achilles tendon. Budd's left leg shot out, and she was near falling.
"But Decker was falling, tripped by that leg all askew. 'To keep from pushing her, I fell,' she would say. She reached out after Budd, inadvertently tearing the number from her back and went headlong across the rail onto the infield.
"Decker's competitiveness is without limit. 'My first thought was, I have to get up,' she said. But when she tried, 'It felt like I was tied to the ground.' She had a pulled gluteus, the hip stabiliser muscle. Only then, understanding that she couldn't go on, with the field past and the medical attendants and her fiance, Richard Slaney, running across the track to her, did the anguish come. Hers was the horrible realisation that once again, in the race she'd been denied by injury and boycott for eight years, she was being denied any chance of a conclusion of her own making."
Budd was booed and jeered by the American crowd for the rest of the race and finished seventh. After the race, Budd went to apologise but Decker dismissed her saying, "Don't bother!" - leaving Zola in tears. Budd was then disqualified but later re-instated, and the incident was regarded as an unfortunate accident.
Budd continued her career after the Olympics, setting a world record for the 5,000 metres in 1985 and an indoor world 3,000 metres record in 1986.She was banned from the Commonwealth Games in 1986 and returned to South Africa. She competed in the 1992 Olympics but without success.
Mary Decker (Slaney) competed in the 1988 and 1996 Olympics but finished her career without an Olympic medal. In 1996 she was given a two-year ban for a drugs offence.
That race in 1984 was a sad occasion, from which neither girl ever fully recovered.
The 1968 Men's Long Jump
The 1968 long jump had several potential winners. Lynn Davies, the reigning Olympic Champion, was there to defend his title. So were joint world record holders, Ogor Terovanesyan of the USSR, and Ralph Boston. Then there was Bob Beamon.
The competition started. Boston broke the Olympic record with 8.33 - close to the world record of 8.35. Beamon had two no-jumps and a safe jump of 8.19. Then there was a break for lunch.
Soon it was Beamon's turn again. This time he soared through the air and landed - it was big! It was too big for the officials. He had jumped beyond the scope of the officials' measuring device. When it was measured and double-checked, it came to 8.90 metres. His first words were apparently, "Tell me I am not dreaming." Later, as he reflected, he was still in shock. "I was not anticipating anything other than winning the gold medal. I can't explain it. I just made a fantastic leap."
Afterwards, Soviet competitor Igor Terovanesyan said, "Compared to this jump, we are as children." English jumper, Lynn Davies, said to Beamon angrily, "You have destroyed this event!"
Surprisingly, the record did not stand forever, as Mike Powell jumped 8.95 in the 1991 World Championships.
1992 Men's 400 metres
The scene is the 1992 Olympic Games, and the semi-final of the men's 400 metres. Derek Redmond, the British record holder, is running. Redmond had had to pull out of the last Olympics at the last minute with injury. The next four years had seen him enduring a succession of operations, mainly for Achilles tendon problems. In the 1991 World Championship he made no impact on the individual race, but was in the historic UK 4 x 400 metres relay team, which won the gold.
Now at last it was beginning to happen for him. In the heat in Barcelona he was flying. In the semi-final he started well, but then after 150 metres, he pulled up sharply, clutching his hamstring. The Olympic dream was over. Minutes later he was weeping inconsolably on trackside.
Then he picked himself up and started limping round the track. Somehow his father got through security and on to the track. Derek put an arm on his father's shoulder and together they slowly made the finishing line. A tragedy for Derek, but the way he handled it made it an unforgettable Olympic moment.
Roll of Dishonour
There have been many Olympic heroes but there have been a few villains too, along the way. In the ancient Games, each competitor had to take an oath to compete according to the rules. The organisers devised an excellent way of dealing with cheats: they were fined. The sting in the tail was that the fine was used to commission a statue of the cheat, which was displayed, with an inscription of his name, father's name and city. It was a veritable roll of dishonour.
Even the Apostle Paul was aware of the practice, when he wrote to Timothy, "If anyone competes as an athlete, he does not receive the victor's crown unless he competes according to the rules." (2 Timothy 2:5)
In the 1904 marathon, Fred Lorz was the first to cross the line. It was then discovered that he had stopped running after nine miles, and then taken a car ride for eleven miles before resuming running the remaining distance. Thomas Hicks was declared the real winner of the race.
Boris Onashenko, a Russian pentathlete, managed to wire up his fencing equipment so that he appeared to be scoring points when he wasn't. He was rumbled and sent home in disgrace. 20 km race-walker, Jane Saville, was disqualified while leading and only 100 metres from the finish - her tear-filled face was one of the haunting images of Sydney 2000.
There have also been some amazing examples of sportsmanship. In 1908, Swedenís Mauritz Andersson agreed to the postponement of the middleweight Greco-Roman wrestling final to allow his opponent Frithiof Martensson to recover from an injury. Martensson recovered so well that he won!
In 1964 the British two-man bob (bobsleigh) team of Robin Dixon and Tony Nash were in contention for the gold medal. After the first of their two runs, the British pair discovered that the main bolt holding their back axle in place had snapped in half. There would be no time to have a replacement brought.
The British pair's main rival, current world champion Eugenio Monte of Italy, hearing of the Britons' plight, removed the bolt from his own bob after his second run, to have it fitted in the British bob. The Britons won the gold medal. As Robin Dixon of the British team pointed out, "Monte knew that he was sacrificing his chance of an Olympic gold medal, the only significant prize that he had not won, by his action."
Monte's own comment on the incident was, "My action was very normal for a sportsperson. You try to help the other people to have the same conditions that you have". Eugenio still has the mug presented to him by the British team, with its inscription: 'A great sporting gesture'. Monte clearly embodied the Olympic spirit and ideals.
This article first appeared in, The Ultimate Prize ñ Great Christian Olympians, Stuart Weir, Hodder, 2004