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Thursday, September 26, 2013

In the back room where nobody went. Nobody.

 If you have the time, I strongly encourage you to watch the documentary above. I was there, and I didn't know much of this stuff. It is very good and it got me thinking of writing this blog, which I had never thought of.
I remember exactly where I was both times. When he became the fastest man in the world, and when he became the fastest man in the world who got caught cheating doing it. Sadly, I remember the cheating part more. 

I was in my bedroom watching TV when Ben Johnson exploded from the starting gate and whipped Carl Lewis and a few other really fast men at the 1988 Olympics. The country was on a high for a day or two after that. Canada had never done anything like that before. The Summer Olympics were never really our strong suit. We held them in 1976 in Montreal and we won one silver medal for the whole thing. We have always been better at the winter sports, hockey, skiing, skating and cold weather sports like that.
But now we had done it. We had won the gold medal for the fastest man in the world. Woohoo!

Two days later, I had come home from school and flipped on the television. Didn't matter what channel it was, it was on all of them. A press conference to state that Ben Johnson had tested positive for steroids and they were taking away his medal. I was in my living room when I heard that. Never made it up to my room. I was glued to the coverage. Twenty five years ago this week, all that happened.
From the years 1985 to 1989 I went to York University. That meant that I had access to the premier track and field training center in Canada at the time. It was right on campus and many of my Phys Ed courses had classes there. In addition, many of us worked out there. It was state of the art for the time. That being the case, the cream of the crop of Canadian Olympic athletes (and some pro ones) worked out and trained there. One of those was Ben Johnson. I saw him all the time at that training center. Before he won gold at Seoul. After, you never saw him.
I don't do this often, but I actually thought twice about writing this blog. I am not a kiss and tell type of person. What happens in private usually stays in private with me. But in this case, it is not like I am giving away state secrets anymore. Everyone knows what I am about to say in this blog. Just that I was actually there before it happened.

Let me say this: We knew. Those of us who were there and watched what went on knew what was happening. You would have to have been blind or ignorant not to. Just that it was one of those things where you just didn't say anything. 
So here it is. Back in the day, it was very obvious that Ben Johnson,  Desai Williams, Angela Taylor and others were cheating. Taking drugs and not doing it on the up and up. And if you met Charlie Francis, as I did, you knew he was a snake- oil salesman as well.
Yes, if they are to be believed, they tried to do it clean but it was hopeless. So they had to play the game that the Americans and the Eastern Bloc countries were playing to level the playing field. Nevertheless, they swore up and down for years that they didn't cheat. So in essence, they were just a band of liars. And if you were there--in that track and field center--you knew they were doing it. There were whispers of guys who came in and supplied them, and shot them up, and they had a stash somewhere in that center. 
Was there a stash? I never saw it,  so I can't say. But I know there were areas that were strictly off limit. And you never got near them in the parking lot either. They would nod to you in the track and field center, and they were cordial, but if you weren't part of their clique, they just ignored you. And to look at them, they just didn't look right. They looked like freaks. Especially their eyes. They had that funny look in their eyes. Like drug addicts who have been on the stuff for too many years.
And the other thing was Angela Taylor. Real women, even natural body building women, don't look like she did. She had muscle on muscle. She might have even had decent sized breasts, but you couldn't tell. Her breasts were just muscle on muscle on muscle, as were her legs, her arms, her neck and every part of her. It just didn't look right. Neither did Ben Johnson. I also knew of Charlie Francis well. To meet him was to not like him right away. He just rubbed you wrong instantly. Much like many high end College Football and Basketball coaches.
How did I come to have an inside track to Charlie Francis? Well, as a phys ed student, and also in the coaching stream, I had access to high end coaching professional people. One of those was the psychologist that handled the track people for Francis. One day,  he came and gave an interview to our group. I was one of the few who asked a lot of questions about how Francis got the results. Knowing me as some of you do,  that isn't surprising. I am sure in retrospect it made Francis nervous that I was doing that. Remember, this was before the 1988 Olympics. And in those days, Francis was a mystery. He never gave in depth interviews and he never came to anyone's class and gave talks. 
I once saw Desai Williams leg press the whole stack of weights. You actually have to be there to understand what that means. Really, only true body builders at the highest level can do something like that. Desai Williams was just a little guy. But the power he had was staggering. I saw guys on the football team, huge guys who couldn't come close to what he did. And he was not even close to the level of Ben Johnson. 
I saw Angela Taylor bench press a level of weight that I have never seen any guy bench press. And she wasn't even stressed. I will say this about her. She was a very nice person. Very friendly. But when she was working out, you didn't exist. These people were obsessed and not acting right.
They say people always remember where they were when certain huge events in the world happen. Everyone who was alive and old enough remember where they were when Kennedy was shot. I remember where I was when Paul Henderson scored the biggest goal in the history of hockey.
I remember where I was when Ben Johnson won the gold. And  I certainly remember where I was when the report came out that he tested positive. Because that was the bigger, more important story. It was the true end of the innocence. Still, to this day, the biggest drug scandal in athletics.
What was it? It was a cult. If you watched them during the Dubin inquiry, you could see that. It was like watching cult members being deprogrammed,  right in front of your eyes. And seeing that moment when they return to reality.
Being at that training center each day,  it was like watching cult members serving at the pulpit of their guru leader. Charlie Francis. For years it was that way.  Until one of them got caught. Then they had no choice but to give it up. The Koolaid was not tasty anymore.
Did they take those drugs at the track center? I don't know. Did they get them at the track center? I don't know. But it is likely that some of them did one or the other there. It is just creepy to think about it now. 
Ben Johnson claims he was framed by a guy named Andre Jackson as Seoul. Even though he now fully admits to taking the steroids for a long time, he still claims that he wasn't on anything at the Olympics.
Did Andre Jackson frame Ben Johnson? Maybe.  I don't think we will ever know. And it doesn't matter. When you are a cheater and a crook like Ben Johnson was, then you are liable to get dirty with those types. And at the end of the day, he has admitted that he was cheating all along anyway. And so was Carl  Lewis. Everyone with a right thinking head knows that. They practically all were. The ones who were very competitive anyway.
All I will remember now is how close to it I was the whole time. I saw these people daily, and there was an awe in being around them. Now, 25 years later, I am not in my early 20's, and I see them for what they always were. Cheaters. Who got caught. Just another lesson I learned in University that I didn't learn in the classroom, of which there were many.

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