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Toronto Meet Canceled in Johnson Backlash

Times Staff Writer

The Toronto Sun-Miller Lite Challenge indoor track and field meet, scheduled to be held in January, was canceled Thursday as the backlash over the Ben Johnson drug controversy continued to cast Canadian sports in a bad light.

The meet, which is part of the Mobil Grand Prix circuit, was called off because of anticipated government inquiries into athletes’ use of steroids and other drugs, prompted by Johnson’s disqualification in the 100 meters at the Olympic Games in September.

Johnson tested positive for the steroid stanozolol.

Organizers said they will postpone the meet--Canada’s oldest indoor event--until 1990, when they plan to schedule it in the SkyDome, Toronto’s new stadium, which is under construction.

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Johnson’s situation has brought widespread charges and countercharges of steroid use within the Canadian track and field fraternity.

“Track and field is a very difficult thing to sell in Toronto at the moment,” said George Shepard, co-director of the meet.

Johnson, who was born in Jamaica but is a Canadian citizen living in Toronto, was one of the country’s biggest sports stars. He was banned from competition for 2 years by the International Amateur Athletic Federation and by the Canadian federation.

The revelation of his drug use has deeply affected the country’s attitude toward athletics, officials said.

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Because of the sport’s damaged image, there was speculation that other meets also would be canceled because of a lack of support. None have, however. Jean-Guy Ouellette, director of the Sherbrooke Invitational in Quebec, said at Seoul that he would not hold a meet, but he has since reconsidered.

A meet in Vancouver was canceled in September because it did not have the volunteer support it needed to be a success, said its director, Doug Clement.

“It had nothing to do with Ben Johnson at all,” he said.

As Johnson rose to become the world record-holder in the 100 meters, indoor track and field meets in Canada enjoyed one of the most successful seasons last winter.

Johnson ran 9.83 seconds to shatter Calvin Smith’s mark of 9.93 in winning the 100 at the 1987 World Championships at Rome.

He became the biggest draw on the indoor circuit and injected vast interest into a sport that rarely attracted much attention in Canada.

“It may be difficult now,” said Paul Gaines, director of the Hamilton Spectator Indoor Games, scheduled for Jan. 13, 1989. “We’re all a bit apprehensive what will happen with the sport.”

Robert Barkman, president of the Saskatchewan Indoor Games, scheduled for Jan. 5, 6, 7, said cancellation of the meet was considered.

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“But we still think there is a need for it,” he said. “Our only concern is that people might be reluctant to come out.”

He also said that his meet will have the opportunity to lure better-caliber athletes now that there are fewer meets in Canada.

Los Angeles’ two January meets--the Sunkist Invitational and The Times Indoor Games--will not be affected by the Canadian situation, promoters here said.

“It won’t hurt us at all. People will still come to our meets,” said Al Franken, Sunkist director.


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