Olympian Ben Johnson, stripped of his gold medal for doping, flew home from the Seoul Olympic Games in disgrace today and Canada banned him from its teams for life.
Calling the incident “a national embarrassment,” Sports Minister Jean Charest said the sprinter also will be barred from ever receiving a federal sports stipend.
Johnson struggled through a horde of question-shouting reporters this morning at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport without answering questions about his positive drug test and looking, according to an 8-year-old boy who got his autograph, “very sad.”
More than 100 members of the media crushed Johnson as he left U.S. Customs, many screaming variations of the same question: “Did you take the steroids, Ben?”
Johnson ducked his head and offered no reply. He declined to say whether his agent’s claim--that the positive test was caused by sabotage--was fact or fiction.
It took him about 60 seconds to make his way to transportation for nearby LaGuardia Airport and a flight to Toronto.
Before leaving Korea, Johnson was in shock and virtually incapable of understanding what was happening to him, when he returned his gold medal to IOC Vice President Richard Pound, also a Canadian, officials said. He then flew off to New York with his mother, his sister and his coach.
Disqualified on Monday
Johnson was disqualified from the Olympic Games on Monday for using anabolic steroids and stripped of the gold medal he won Saturday for his astonishing 9.79-second run in the 100-meter track event.
The gold went to American Carl Lewis, who ran second to Johnson in 9.92. Linford Christie of Britain moved up from the bronze to the silver medal, and American Calvin Smith, who finished fourth, was awarded the bronze.
Lewis appeared at a church service for Olympic athletes and spoke briefly, repeating a story he first told when he lost to Johnson.
“My mother had a dream the other night about my father, who said everything would be all right,” Lewis said. “And today, it was.”
Earlier in the day he said: “I feel sorry for Ben and for the Canadian people. Ben is a great competitor and I hope he is able to straighten out his life and return to competition.”
“This will change the history of the Olympics,” American hurdler Edwin Moses said of the 10 seconds that rocked the Summer Games. “This will change a lot of people’s lives.”
Johnson, the greatest sprinter in history, packed his bags and slipped out of the country this morning, not unnoticed but no longer idolized, not an Olympic champion, just a cheater.
Advertisers Dropping Out
Advertisers who paid the “world’s fastest human” millions to convey their message were rushing to cancel commercials, tearing down the posters and demanding their money back.
The first to act were Kyodo Oil Co. of Japan, which had been showing Johnson’s powerful stride in gasoline commercials, and a Finnish dairy association. The Italian sportswear company Diadora was reviewing its five-year, $2-million contract with the runner.
Johnson’s departure in shame and escort onto a flight to New York by a phalanx of security guards eclipsed sports on day 11 of the Games and left a cloud of suspicion hanging over other athletes.
The Jamaican-born Canadian was the seventh athlete at the Games to fail a dope test but his status as a sporting superstar made all the other cases pale into insignificance.
Not only was Johnson stripped of his medal and kicked off his team, but his world-record time in Saturday’s 100 meters was automatically erased.