His Fall From the Top Is Equally Fast

How in the world did he ever believe he would get away with it?

How do you go to the Olympic Games on banned chemical substances and expect to get away with it?

A better question might be: How many others are getting away with it?

Is Ben Johnson just one of the very few who won't get away with it?

What was Johnson thinking?

What got into him--besides the fairly obvious?

Is there any chance that this guy is the most innocent dupe of all time?

We suppose several possibilities exist.

One is that the lab messed up the 100-meter champion's drug test, in which case these International Olympic Committee folks have a hell of a lot of apologizing to do.

That one's unlikely.

You do not take away a gold medal from a track man for the first time in 24 Olympic Games on a drug rap without checking and cross-checking and triple-checking first.

You do not take away a gold medal and a world record--9.79 seconds, the man ran--and pretend the person was never even here without being damned certain of your facts.

Another possibility is that somebody else slipped steroids into Ben Johnson's system. Johnson's agent already is howling that this is nothing short of sabotage--that somebody switched bottles on Ben between the semifinals and finals of his event.

That one's even less likely.

The IOC tests are such that, if this particular anabolic steroid had been ingested so soon before Johnson's race, the results would have indicated it.

The same spiked-drink theory was tried by an Australian athlete in the modern pentathlon--Alex Watson, who, after being expelled from these Olympics last week for an abnormally high level of caffeine, accused some mysterious person of sneaking something into the refreshments Watson had brought with him to the fencing competition.

Possible, we believe, but awfully difficult to swallow.

Least likely of all is that Ben Johnson and other alleged offenders came to the Games ignorant of the rules about drug use.

No, we suspect they knew from the moment they took something more useful than a vitamin pill that they were into something bad, but prayed nobody else would ever know.

We suspect that these people elected to defy the stated rules and bans. We suspect that there are more of them out there, more of them who lucked out when the lab returned the results.

At least, now we have a little better understanding of what Carl Lewis was talking about at last September's track and field World Championships in Rome, where, a day or two after being beaten by Johnson in a record-fast 100-meter sprint, Lewis contended that certain people--he named no names--were using and abusing certain chemicals.

Ben, old friend, we were pretty sure he was talking about you.

We just weren't sure if he had any reason to be talking.

Turns out that the ribbon and medallion with which they lassoed you last Saturday was just a fancy-looking noose, and today it has tightened around your neck.

When the IOC officials called a news conference here Tuesday to tell the world that Ben Johnson of Canada no longer was the prince of the sprints, that Carl Lewis of the United States was now the official 100-meter champion and fourth-place finisher Calvin Smith of the U.S. was now a medal-winner after all, the globe's opinion of Ben Johnson took a turn for the worse.

Some were not surprised. Some were stunned. Some hoped Johnson would be vindicated. Some felt he got what he deserved. And some cared not at all, figuring that drug use--or, more specifically in Johnson's case, stanozolol use--simply was the price great athletes paid to become even greater athletes.

No matter what, Olympic officials warned that there would be a crackdown on drug use here in Seoul, and they meant business.

Anita DeFrantz of the IOC said Tuesday: "I was very sad for Ben Johnson, but it's an important moment for the Olympic movement, to show that we are very serious in our fight against doping, that we are very serious about making sure that athletes who do not use drugs for performance enhancement are not in any way disadvantaged.

"We've got to make it clear that this is not the way to go, that athletes will not have the opportunity to cheat and take medals that they do not deserve," DeFrantz said.

Bulgaria's entire weightlifting team packed up its barbells and went home after two of its athletes were stripped of gold medals for taking a banned weight-loss drug. A statement from a Bulgarian official wanted everyone to know that he and his countrymen considered drug use "a breach of fair play."

A second modern pentathlon athlete, besides the Aussie who swore he'd been slipped a mickey, tested positive for drugs. Jorge Quesada of Spain was sent packing because, the IOC ruled, before the marksmanship competition, Quesada had taken some substance that was useful in steadying his aim.

Funny how people don't pay much attention to Bulgarian weightlifters and Spanish modern pentathletes who get sent home, except maybe people in Sofia and Barcelona.

Thumb the world's fastest human out of the Olympics, though, and hold tight while the Earth shudders.

This one registered about a 9.79 on the Richter scale.

Poor Canada. It loses Wayne Gretzky and Ben Johnson's gold medal, in less than 2 months' time.

It was Ken Read, a former Olympic skier for Canada, who, in his current role as a member of the IOC's Athletes' Commission, took a hard stand against drugs before these Games. In June, he attended the first world conference on anti-doping and helped draw up a charter condemning drug use.

"Little progress will be made in the fight against drugs in sport unless the entire sports community can build a foundation of confidence with athletes," Read said just the other day.

"The Athletes' Commission has taken a firm stance on the drug issue. We deplore the use of performance-enhancing drugs and have called for a life ban for any athlete, coach or administrator implicated."

Listening, Ben?

"Sport is a competition between athletes--healthy bodies and minds," Read continued. "If we allow our sports programs to degenerate into laboratory tests for superior performance, with enhancing drugs, we will have destroyed something very special."

Talking to you, Ben.

It is a dirty shame, a gyp, that the world must be denied the beauty of Ben Johnson's performance because he evidently had something going for him other than natural speed and cunning and grace.

Turns out now that Ben Johnson was not even in the Olympic Games. There will be no mention of him in the archives under "1988," no record of his performance, no reminder that he ever set foot in Seoul. Ben Who, he becomes. Ben Nobody. The man who never ran.

There was a character in Joseph Heller's novel, "Catch-22," named Dunbar, who one day turned up missing. All his friend Yossarian could deduce was that somebody had "disappeared him." Dunbar hadn't disappeared by himself. Somebody had disappeared him.

Well, somebody has just disappeared Ben Johnson.

Never again will we tell you how wonderful he was at the Olympics.

Because he was never even here.

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