THE SEOUL GAMES / DAY 11 : Johnson Loses Gold to Drugs

Times Staff Writer

Canadian Ben Johnson, whose explosive strength enabled him to become the world's fastest man, was stripped of his 100-meter gold medal Tuesday by the International Olympic Committee after testing positive for an anabolic steroid commonly used by bodybuilders.

Johnson, 26, faces a two-year suspension by the International Amateur Athletic Federation, which governs track and field, and likely will be prevented from competing at least through the 1992 Olympic Games by the Canadian Olympic Assn.

With the disqualification, an IAAF spokesman said Tuesday that the gold medal will be awarded to the United States' Carl Lewis, who finished second to Johnson in Saturday's 100-meter final at the Olympic Stadium.

Lewis thus became the only man ever to repeat as the Olympic 100-meter champion and, after finishing first in the long jump Monday, could win four gold medals for the second consecutive Olympics. He competes Wednesday in the 200 meters.

Great Britain's Linford Christie will receive the silver medal, and the United States' Calvin Smith, who finished fourth, will receive the bronze.

Johnson's winning time of 9.79 seconds will not be counted by the IAAF as a world record, leaving the 9.83 that the Jamaican-born sprinter ran last year at the World Championships in Rome as the existing standard. Lewis ran 9.92 Saturday, an American record.

Track and field promoters, as well as Johnson's biographer, Jim Christie of the Toronto Globe and Mail, estimated that the suspension will cost the sprinter more than $3 million in athletic shoe and apparel contracts, endorsements and meet appearance fees.

Christie said that Johnson had a four- or five-year contract valued at $2.5 million with an Italian athletic shoe and apparel company, Diadora, and five or six sponsorship agreements with Japanese companies. He said that all of Johnson's contracts included clauses that invalidated them if he were discovered to have violated rules against the use of performance-enhancing drugs.

Johnson became the seventh athlete since the Games began Sept. 17 to test positive for banned substances, the first for an anabolic steroid.

Two other gold medalists, Bulgarian weightlifters Anguelov Guenchev and Mitko Grablev, were forced to forfeit their championships last week after traces of the diuretic, furosemide, intended for quick weight loss and to hide steroid use, were found in their systems. Bulgaria's weightlifting team withdrew from the remainder of the competition.

Since the IOC began testing for drugs in the 1968 Olympics at Mexico City, adding anabolic steroids to its banned list for the 1976 Games at Montreal, only one other track atnd field medalist has produced a positive sample at the Games. Finland's Martti Vainio was disqualified after finishing second in the 10,000 meters 4 years ago in Los Angeles.

Johnson is the most celebrated athlete required to return his Olympic gold medal since Jim Thorpe, the 1912 decathlon champion, who violated the IOC's amateurism code by accepting $25 a week as as minor league baseball player.

"This is a blow for the Olympic Games and the Olympic movement," IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch said in a prepared statement. "However, it shows that the IOC was right in the first stand it has adopted to keep the Games clean."

Carol Anne Letheren, head of the Canadian delegation, said: "The people of Canada and Jamaica were elated over the 100-meter final. Now there is pain. The heartbreak is shared by the Canadian Olympic team."

Johnson, who was asked to return the gold medal by Canadian Olympic officials at 3:30 a.m. Tuesday, after their hearing with the IOC Medical Commission, left Seoul later in the morning on a flight bound to New York and was unavailable for comment.

His manager, Larry Heidebrecht of Williamsburg, Va., told the Associated Press, "Johnson was completely shattered by the developments."

He also suggested that someone tampered with the liquids that Johnson drank in the approximately 15 minutes between the time he finished the race and was escorted to the room inside the stadium where urine samples are collected from all medal winners and other athletes selected randomly.

"The only thing we can say at this stage is that it is a tragedy, a mistake or a sabotage," he said. "Up to five days before the race, Ben was in perfect condition. Something has happened in those days.

"We do not know what happened and how it happened, but apparently somebody has sabotaged Ben, and we will find out who it was and how it was done."

Heidebrecht's reference to Johnson's condition five days before the race indicated that he had been tested since arriving in Seoul. But Canadian track and field officials said that they had no knowledge to that effect.

Paul Dupre, president of the Canadian Track and Field Assn., said that a review of his records revealed that Johnson had been tested eight times since the winter of 1987 but not since February of this year until Saturday. He said that he has been unable to confirm reports that Johnson was tested on Aug. 17 after a meet in Zurich, Switzerland, where he finished third in the 100 behind Lewis and Smith.

Even though Johnson won the 100 in the Canadian track and field championships at Ottawa Aug. 1, he was not tested. Dupre said that two of the three medalists in each event, selected by a roll of the dice, were asked to produce urine samples and Johnson was not among them.

After learning Monday at 1:45 a.m. in a memo from the IOC Medical Commission that Johnson tested positive, Canadian Olympic officials met at 7 a.m. with the sprinter, his manager and his coach, Charlie Francis.

"He was shocked," Letheren said of Johnson's reaction to the news. "I would suspect that he was not comprehending the situation. He was not able to speak. It was a very difficult situation for all of us."

She said that Johnson and Francis insisted that the sprinter had never used performance-enhancing drugs and presented a scenario alleging that someone tampered either with the liquid, a concoction of West Indies herbs called sarsaparilla that Johnson drank after the race, or with his urine sample before it was transported to the Korean Institute of Advanced Science and Technology for testing.

Dr. Bill Stanish, chief medical officer of the COA, said he had "grave concerns" about the circumstances surrounding Johnson's test. He said Johnson was accompanied by uncredentialed persons, including Canadians, to the drug-testing room, an apparent violation of IOC protocol.

Prince Alexander de Merode of Belgium, chairman of the IOC Medical Commission, said that an investigation of the charge is in progress. But he rejected the suggestion that sabotage could have produced the result that led to Johnson's disqualification.

"The profile of this particular steroid is not consistent with that claim," he said. Doctors familiar with laboratory analysis said that a substance discovered in the sample would have been more concentrated than it was in this case if it had been recently ingested.

Canadian officials, who have been among the leaders in promoting drug testing in international athletics, did not question the IOC's findings.

"There is absolutely no question in our minds that the process was appropriate and correct," said Dr. Roger Jackson, COA president. "We also appreciate the thoroughness of the hearing (Monday night)."

Three members of the Canadian weightlifting team were dismissed from the team before leaving for Seoul after testing positive for anabolic steroids, synthetic derivatives of the male hormone testosterone that are used by athletes to build muscles and increase strength.

A fourth weightlifter was sent home from Seoul after COA officials discovered that his test also was positive. He was found to have used the steroid, stanozolol, the same substance identified in Johnson's sample.

Stanozolol, sold under the brand name Winstrol in the United States, is a water-based pill that is taken orally. Considered the drug of choice among bodybuilders, it is considered by doctors as one of the most toxic steroids to the liver.

"The drug has a reputation among athletes as undetectable," said Dr. Robert Dugal, a member of the IOC Medical Commission from Canada. "We now know that it isn't.

"It also has a reputation of remaining in the body for an extremely short time. In this case, the athlete's timing was wrong."

Suspicions of Johnson's drug use have been prevalent since the World Championships in August 1987, when he ran the 100 in 9.83 to beat Lewis and break the previous world record by one-tenth of a second.

After that race, in an interview with a British television network, ITV, Lewis said: "(Drug use) really is bad in our sport, worse than ever. There are gold medalists in this meet who are definitely on drugs.

"I feel a strange air about these championships. A lot of people are coming out of nowhere, and I don't think that they are doing it without drugs."

Although Lewis denied it, it was generally accepted that he was referring specifically to Johnson.

Contacted in Ottawa by United Press International Tuesday, Canadian Sports Minister Jean Charet said he was warned at least twice that Johnson was using drugs and was "probably not acting alone."

Charet said he believed that the rumors were "fueled by other athletes."

After he won the gold medal Saturday, Johnson said, "They can break my record, but they can't take my gold medal away."

WHAT ELSE JOHNSON MAY LOSE Shoe contract $2.5 million, 4 years.

Existing endorsements All in jeopardy.

Endorsements to be signed Unknown.

Oct. 5 Tokyo race Minimum $100,000.

Outdoor meets $25,000 a meet.

Indoor meets $15,000 a meet.

In addition: (1) Johnson will likely be suspended for 2 years by the IAAF; (2) His 100-meter world-record time of 9.79 seconds will likely be invalidated, but he will retain the record at 9.83 seconds.

ATHLETES WHO HAVE USED BANNED SUBSTANCES AT SEOUL Here are the athletes named by Olympic officials as having used banned substances:

Athlete, CountryEventFinishSubstance

Ben Johnson, 100-meter Gold medalist Canada dash Mitko Grablev, 133-pound Gold medalist Bulgaria weightlifting Anguelov Guenchev, weightlifting Gold medalist Bulgaria 148 1/2-pound Kalman Csengeri, weightlifting fourth Hungary 165-pound Fernando Mariaca, weightlifting 13th Spain 148 1/2-pound Jorge Quesada, pentathlon 33rd Spain Alexander Watson, pentathlon 12th when Australia disqualified

Ben Johnson, anabolic steroids Canada Mitko Grablev, furosemide, a diuretic Bulgaria Anguelov Guenchev, furosemide Bulgaria Kalman Csengeri, testosterone Hungary Fernando Mariaca, amphetamine Spain Jorge Quesada, drug used to steady Spain his hand in shooting event Alexander Watson, excess levels of caffiene Australia

Times staff writer Julie Cart in Los Angeles contributed to this story.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World