THE BEN JOHNSON STEROID INQUIRY : Francis Details Johnson’s Drug Use in 1987-88
In the 11 months after he broke the 100-meter world record at the World Championships at Rome in August, 1987, Ben Johnson used anabolic steroids during three different periods, his coach, Charlie Francis, said Thursday.
But since it does not seem likely that Johnson would have tested positive at the Summer Olympics in September, 1988, as a result of those injections, because they had occurred so long before, the question of whether the Canadian sprinter used anabolic steroids in the two months before his competition at Seoul was left unanswered when Francis ended his testimony.
Whether he will make that allegation, or stand by his original claim at Seoul that Johnson was sabotaged, probably will be answered Monday, when Francis returns for his fourth day of testimony before the Canadian government’s Inquiry into the Use of Drugs and Banned Practices Intended to Increase Athletic Performance.
Francis might have provided a hint when he said that Johnson had his own bottle of Winstrol tablets, prescribed for him a few years previously by his physician, Jamie Astaphan. Winstrol contains stanozolol, the banned steroid discovered in Johnson’s urine after he had won the 100-meter race at Seoul. Johnson was disqualified after the positive drug test, losing his gold medal and the world record he set in that race.
Francis’ testimony Thursday was nowhere near as dramatic as it had been the day before, when he revealed that Johnson, 27, began using performance-enhancing drugs, including steroids, in 1981, named 10 other athletes coached by him who used drugs between 1979 and 1986 and implicated several other prominent athletes from eight countries, most of them from the United States.
But Francis did name two additional Canadian athletes, also coached by him, who began taking drugs in the fall of 1987 as they began preparation for the Summer Olympics, prominent high hurdler Mark McKoy and long jumper Tracy Smith.
Francis, an Olympic sprinter for Canada in 1972 and a full-time coach since 1978, also revealed in detail, complete with graphs, the elaborate training plan that he and Astaphan, who is from the Caribbean island of St. Kitts, devised to propel Johnson toward his existing world-record time of 9.83 seconds at the 1987 World Championships. That beat the previous record by a full 10th of a second.
Although it is now apparent that the plan included the use of steroids, which have been banned in track and field since 1974, Johnson passed his drug test in Rome. John Holt, secretary general of the International Amateur Athletic Federation, which governs the sport, said there is no legal way to strip Johnson of the world record.
Francis said that the first phase of their program for 1987 began in the fall of 1986, when Francis injected Johnson with a steroid, Furazabol. Johnson was supposed to visit Francis’ Toronto apartment three times a week for three weeks to receive the injections, but Johnson apparently was not the most dedicated patient.
“He seemed fairly random,” Francis said. “So he never had the full amount he was supposed to have (during that period).”
But Francis said that he and Astaphan were better able to monitor Johnson’s drug use at a training camp later that fall at St. Kitts, where the doctor gave the sprinter two shots a week of Furazabol for two weeks. Francis said that Johnson also took one tablet--four milligrams--a day of Winstrol for at least a week during that fall.
Johnson’s drug use, Francis said, resumed for a six-week period in the spring of 1987, when, back in Toronto, he resumed going to his coach’s apartment for injections. Francis said he gave Johnson three shots a week for three weeks and two shots a week for the next three weeks, adding that the sprinter also took Winstrol during one of those weeks.
“He was pretty regular at that time,” Francis said.
In mid-summer, two months before the World Championships, Francis said that Johnson began another drug cycle, receiving two injections a week of Furazabol for two weeks at the coach’s apartment. Francis said that he did not believe that Johnson was taking Winstrol at that time.
It was during three separate training periods during the year that Francis’ athletes used drugs, he said, adding that it usually amounted to 14 weeks a year, six weeks between October and December, six weeks between March and May and two weeks in July.
It was obvious that their program was working as early as January, 1987, when Johnson broke the world record in the 60 meters in an indoor race at Osaka, Japan. He tied that record twice during the winter before again breaking it, running a 6.41 in March at the indoor world championships at Indianapolis.
Johnson also had an outstanding summer, running faster than 10 seconds in the 100 meters three times before arriving in Rome to beat his archrival, Carl lewis, in a world-record time of 9.83. Francis was not surprised. Only days before, he had predicted that Johnson would run 9.85.
Neither was Francis surprised that Johnson did not test positive for steroids at Rome. Although he said that he and Astaphan believed that an athlete could stop using Furazabol 14 days before a competition and test clean, they advised their athletes to quit at least 28 days in advance. That gave them a two-week cushion.
Francis said that he had been optimistic about 1988. Considering Johnson’s 9.83 in 1987, and the program that was planned for 1988, Francis predicted a 9.80 for Seoul.
Actually, Johnson ran a 9.79 at the Olympics. Francis said that it would have been a 9.73 if Johnson had not begun celebrating before he reached the finish line.
But the road to Seoul was filled with potential disasters.
First, there was Johnson’s increased popularity, a double-edged sword. It made him wealthy, but it also interrupted his routine. During the fall, 1987, training period, Francis said that Johnson was able to work out for only three weeks because of his travel schedule. That meant, Francis said, that Johnson took Furazabol for three weeks, three times a week, instead of six.
It did not seem to affect his performances initially in 1988. He set world records in two of his first three indoor races. But then he pulled a hamstring in his left leg during a race in mid-February at West Germany.
Johnson decided to take a two-week vacation to St. Kitts.
In March, Johnson returned to Toronto in better shape than Francis expected to begin another six-week training period. Again, Francis said, Johnson was not able to take the Furazabol for the entire six weeks because of his travel commitments.
Asked by the inquiry’s co-counsel, Robert P. Armstrong, whether Johnson took Winstrol during that period, Francis said, “I don’t believe so.”
When the outdoor season began in the spring, Francis said that he did not believe Johnson was completely recovered from the hamstring injury. Still, he entered Johnson in a race at Tokyo on May 13, although Francis said that it was arranged through the promoter for there to be no valid competition.
“We wanted the field to be as soft as we could reasonably get away with,” Francis said, describing a practice that is often suspected but seldom confirmed in track and field.
“The idea was to ease Ben back into competition. We felt that he would still win the race and stay undefeated (as he had been since 1986).”
But May 13 fell on a Friday. Johnson did not finish the race, stopping short with a pull in the same hamstring that he had injured during the indoor season three months before.
Francis and his athletes, including Johnson, returned to Toronto and were supposed to leave two days later for a training camp and several meets in Europe. Although Johnson would not be able to compete for several weeks, Francis wanted the sprinter in Europe to work with a physical therapist, Waldemar Matuszewski. Johnson wanted to go to St. Kitts.
They argued, Francis said, before Johnson relented. But when the plane left for Europe, Johnson was not on it. Francis said that Johnson went to St. Kitts to recuperate under Astaphan’s care. It was in St. Kitts that Johnson began his third steroid cycle in the year leading to the Olympics, Francis said.
Since Francis was not present, he was asked by Armstrong how he had become aware of that.
“From talking to Ben,” Francis said. “He said he had the same sequence of shots he would have had (in the summer). He had it sooner than he would have mostly because of the injury.”
Asked if the injections were of Furazabol, Francis said, “That’s what I expect he was doing.”
Asked if steroids would have helped Johnson recover from his injury, Francis said, “Yes. One of the reasons they were invented was to speed up the healing process.”
Although Johnson was expected in Europe on several occasions, he and Astaphan did not arrive until almost a month after the injury. They caught up with Francis and the other Canadians in Padua, Italy, in mid-June.
The tension evident, Francis said that he and Johnson barely spoke to each for two days. When they finally sat down together, they decided to part, interrupting an 11-year relationship. Francis said that he did not believe that Astaphan came between them, although it was apparent that Johnson relied heavily on the doctor’s advice.
Francis was upset because Johnson had not joined the team in Europe when he promised. Johnson was upset because Francis had not called to check on his progress in St. Kitts.
“He said he didn’t want to work with me again,” Francis said. “I told him to come back a year from then and tell me if he made the right decision.”
Johnson returned to St. Kitts with Astaphan, who soon would be on the sprinter’s payroll at $10,000 a month. Francis remained in Europe, taking his athletes to several track meets.
At a meet in Lille, France, Francis decided that he and Johnson needed each other. His inspiration, he said, was Carl Lewis. Or rather his distaste for Lewis.
“I saw him racing without competition and then mugging and carrying on in the stands in what I saw as his usual fashion,” Francis said. “I couldn’t conceive at that point of walking away and allowing Carl Lewis to win (at Seoul) without opposition when Ben was a far superior athlete.”
Within days, Francis and Johnson, who both had returned to Toronto in mid-summer, were working together again.
“He looked very ragged technically,” Francis said. “But his speed was excellent. It was clear that with a little work on his technique, he would quickly round into shape.
“There was no question in my mind he would win in Seoul.”