Ben Johnson’s track coach testified here Wednesday that he put the Canadian sprinter on a steroid program in 1981 because the performance-enhancing drugs were “worth a meter” in Johnson’s event and because keeping up with the competition made it necessary to use the drugs.
The revelation came during the second day of Charlie Francis’ wide-ranging testimony before a Canadian inquiry into drugs and sports.
Spurred to Investigate
The Canadian government was spurred to create this investigative commission after Johnson lost his gold medal and world record in the 100-meter dash at the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul because he tested positive for an anabolic steroid.
Francis in his testimony also implicated at least a half-dozen prominent current and former Olympic athletes in steroid use, including Florence Griffith Joyner.
Francis said he first approached Johnson about steroids in the summer of 1981, but said he “was not sure of the advantages.” That fall, Francis said, Johnson “decided he would go on.”
“If he wanted to compete, it’s pretty clear that steroids are worth a meter at the highest level of sports,” said Francis, who has been Johnson’s coach since 1977.
“I think he understood that his competitors were on them.”
Johnson has maintained that he never knowingly used drugs to enhance his performance. Francis’ only previous statement since the Olympics was that the sprinter’s urine test may have been sabotaged.
Francis said that after he introduced Johnson to steroids in 1981, the drugs were later administered by Johnson’s personal physician, Jamie Astaphan.
Astaphan, who has promised to travel from his home in the Caribbean to testify in Toronto, has denied that he gave the drug to Johnson.
In hour after hour of detailed testimony on the use of anabolic steroids and growth hormones, Francis said that at an early stage, top female sprinter Angella Taylor Issajenko injected Johnson and fellow sprinter Tony Sharpe with the steroids, while the two men injected Issajenko with a growth hormone.
He said he first worked on steroid programs with Issajenko in 1979 and with Johnson and fellow runners Desai Williams and Sharpe in 1981.
He implicated 11 Canadians, all his athletes. They have been advised not to talk to the media.
Francis said he initially looked at the progress of women’s competition before discussing the program with Issajenko in 1979.
Using a graph in the packed hearing room, he pointed to the increase in the women’s 100-meter records over the past decade and described it as “a monumental blip” from what could be expected.
He cited the 10.49-second 100-meter record set last year by Florence Griffith Joyner. He did not mention her name, referring to her as “this lady in question, and said, “This girl would beat the great Jesse Owens by four feet.”
Though Francis stopped short of saying Griffith Joyner’s world-record performance was the result of using steroids, he mentioned it in the context of performance-enhancing drugs.
Griffith Joyner, who retired from track last Saturday, was unavailable for comment, but her agent, Gordon Baskin, strongly denied that the runner had used a banned substance.
“The truth is the truth and the truth will prevail--Florence has never and will never use steroids,” Baskin told the Associated Press from his office in Los Angeles.
“She has gone through so many tests with the USOC (U.S. Olympic Committee) the TAC (The Athletic Congress) and the many governing bodies.”
Baskin said after Johnson tested positive in Seoul, there were rumors about other leading athletes, including Griffith Joyner.
“The IOC thought it was so unfair that they made a specific announcement that Florence has never tested positive,” he said.
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