Ben Johnson Owes Me $200

Very exciting to watch the Men’s 100-meter final on Sunday night. Nice to see Andre De Grasse come through on the big stage. Gotta like his chances for gold in 2020 … although a lot can happen in four years.

sportExciting as this race was, let’s face it. If you’re old enough to remember, it was nothing like the thrill of Friday night, September 23, 1988. Ben Johnson’s win over Carl Lewis seemed like one of those defining “where were you when” moments we’d always remember. I guess it still is – but not for the right reasons.

I watched the race late that night Friday night in the basement of a friend’s house. When I woke up on Saturday, still buzzing with the excitement of it, I wrote a story about the history of Canadian sprinters (Bobby Kerr, Percy Williams, Harry Jerome) that I then submitted to the Toronto Star.

There was no email in those days, and I wish I could remember for sure, but I must have driven down to the Toronto Star building later that day, or some time on Sunday, to deliver my story. What I do remember for certain was calling Gerry Hall, the Toronto Star sports editor, on Monday. Did he like the story? Was he interested?

Toronto Star stories on Saturday and Sunday, September 24-25, 1988.

Yes, and yes! But then he told me that they’d just gotten word that someone in Seoul had tested positive for steroids. When it turned out to be Ben Johnson, well … let’s just say there was no longer any interest in my story.

Front page of the Toronto Star, September 27, 1988.

7 thoughts on “Ben Johnson Owes Me $200

  1. I still remember the extreme highs and lows of those days, too! Being caught in a drug test still seemed rare and shocking. How naive we were … about him, and about his oh-so-self-righteous opponent.

    1. Donovan Bailey was great, and is still such an engaging personality. (But I didn’t write a story in 1996 … though watching that one with Barbara and seven-year-old Amanda, and the 4 x 100 the next week, will always be a great memory!)

  2. Ben crossing the finish line and the race call is STILL one of my all-time favourites in sports history. I don’t want to nor intend to start a re-hash but the ONLY thing that Ben did wrong that day that EVERYONE else didn’t do was to get caught. Even THAT (getting caught) has pretty well been accepted as to the fact that he was sabotaged and HIS specimen was further tampered with by an unknown party but strongly suspected to be the Carl Lewis camp, who, by the way is absolutely acknowledged to ALSO have been doped at the time.
    Poor Ben was a sad dupe, as naive then as are most Canadian harpies who bad mouth him to this day with no knowledge or understanding of the entire ‘amateur’ sports environment of the time.
    BTW…there is still a movement afoot, and not without relatively decent support, to yet strip the medals of ALL but a few of the ‘Athletics’ medal winners (With Carl Lewis and the rest of the track medal winners heading the list to be stripped.) of those Olympics.
    Don’t get me wrong, there is and was NO DEFENSE but the simple facts at the time were that if you didn’t ‘use’ you could NOT successfully compete. It was a way of life for virtually the whole community was guilty to various degrees but only a few got caught.

    GO Andre! Looking even BETTER for the 200!

    Hey Usain, in the immortal words of the late, great Satchel Paige…”Don’t look back. Something might be gaining on you!”

  3. FAB post Eric!! I was so happy about Ben winning & so furious about the doping scandal. As a retired Track Runner (100 metre; 200 metre & 4 X1 relay Anchor) I felt humiliated by that turn of events.
    Donovan Bailey restored my faith in Canadian Track. I love his commentating… He has such a smooth sense of humor & fairness.
    Andre De Grasse is our new ‘golden boy’ & I am so excited for him & his Mother! And I am thrilled he & Usain Bolt have a little ‘Bromance’ going on!!! Will be glued to TV tonite for 200 metre; how about you???
    And Ben Johnson, where ever you are; you owe my friend $200.!!!! 🙂
    Sherri-Ellen T-D.

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