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Ben Johnson Admits Taking Steroids : Olympic Sprinter Confesses at Inquiry That He Knew His Pills Were Illegal

From Times Wire Services

Sprinter Ben Johnson admitted to a government inquiry today that he knowingly used banned steroids to build himself into the world’s fastest man.

Rubbing his eyes and speaking at times in a stammer, Johnson confessed for the first time since being stripped of his gold medal at last year’s Seoul Olympics that he was aware he was taking illegal performance-enhancing drugs.

His testimony was halted for a recess as he finished discussing his career up to 1983. He has not yet testified about the 1988 games.

The 27-year-old sprinter told the inquiry that in 1981 and 1982 he took the banned steroid pills dianabol and Winstrol, a form of the steroid stanozolol, given to him by trainer Charlie Francis without at first knowing what they were.

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Then inquiry commission attorney Robert Armstrong asked Johnson: “You became aware . . . (in 1983) that the drugs you were taking were something called steroids?”

“Yes,” Johnson replied.

“And you became aware at that time that dianabol, the blue pills, were steroids?”

“Yes.”

“And that the Winstrol tablets--the pink pills--were steroids?”

“Yes.”

“And you, of course, became aware that steroids were drugs that were banned and that if you took a test and it was found you had them in your system, that you’d be disqualified?”

“Yes.”

‘He Said to Take It’

The Jamaican-born sprinter testified that he knew the amount of time before a competition that a competitor must allow to clear traces of the drug from his system, adding that Francis knew when to give him the pills and when to go off them.

As he started his testimony, Johnson appeared at first to put the blame on Francis, saying:

“If he gave me something to take, I take it. No one told me they were banned.”

“Charlie was my coach, and he said to take it,” Johnson told the hearing into drug use in sport, which was set up after his disqualification created the worst scandal in Olympic history.

Johnson said he first knew of steroids when Francis approached him at a 1981 training session and said: “The whole world is using drugs, and the only way I’m going to get better is to take it. At the time I didn’t say yes or no. . . . He said think about it and let me know. I didn’t come up to him and say I want to go on it.”

By the Pan-American games in 1983, Johnson testified that he had become more knowledgeable about the substances he had been taking.

Johnson seemed subdued as he took the witness stand after swearing on a Bible to tell the truth.

He frequently rubbed his reddened eyes and stammered as he answered questions on how he developed from a scrawny, weak-kneed 15-year-old Jamaican immigrant into Canada’s greatest runner and the world’s fastest man.

Gold Medal Lost

Johnson’s appearance before the inquiry, expected to keep him on the witness stand for days, ended the runner’s silence on the scandal. In Seoul, he initially offered the quickly discredited alibi that someone had spiked his pre-race drink, then quickly changed his excuse to read that he had never “knowingly taken illegal drugs.”

The Jamaican-born runner lost the gold medal, set in a world record race of 9.79 seconds, when he tested positive for the banned steroid stanozolol. He still holds the world record, set in Rome in 1987, but that too is under investigation.

Johnson was ushered into the hearing by his attorney, Ed Futerman, who has portrayed him for months as a simple-minded soul incapable of a deliberate effort to circumvent anti-doping rules.

As he passed through a gauntlet of more than 200 reporters from around the world, Johnson said only that “I feel good” about the impending interrogation.


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