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Drug cheats vs true athletic potential

Published:Sunday | August 19, 2012 | 12:00 AM

Glenn Tucker , Contributor

The entire diaspora is still excited about the performance of our athletes at the Olympics. Unfortunately, some persons, like former International Olympic Committee (IOC) executive Dick Pound and Olympian Carl Lewis, insist on pouring cold water - and some mud - on our athletes and the sports programme.

Dick Pound, a lawyer by training, claims that Jamaican athletes are "difficult to find and test". A Canadian, he was still celebrating Ben Johnson's victory three days later when his boss, the president of the IOC, Juan Samaranch, burst into the celebration room shouting, "Dick, Dick, did you hear what happened?"

"What?" Pound replied. "Someone has died?"

"No, worse. Ben Johnson has tested positive."

Pound took Johnson aside and after being assured by Johnson that he was innocent, he decided to be his legal repre-sentative. But the evidence was too overwhelming and Johnson was found guilty. There are those who claim that the experience left Pound an incurable cynic.

Historians hail Carl Lewis as one of the greatest athletes in the world. He is known for his records in running and the long jump. In 2003, however, long after the medals and endorsements, a former medical director of the US Olympic Committee released documents proving that Carl Lewis had tested positive for banned substances - repeatedly - before the 1988 Olympics.


Lewis claimed the results were caused by dietary supplements and was forgiven. What they failed to ask him was how his training partners, Heard and DeLoach, tested positive for the exact same substances.

When approached for a comment nearly 25 years later, his response was, "Who cares I failed a drug test? There were hundreds of people getting off." And that was true.

The same report revealed more than 100 hushed positive drug tests between 1988 and 2000, plus 18 positives from Olympic trials that did not disqualify athletes from advancing to the Games. All this happened when Dick Pound was vice-president of the IOC.

While Lewis was carting off the gold medals and endorsements in the men's category, a superwoman was working wonders in the women's section. Florence Griffith Joyner (Flo Jo) shocked the world by her appearance in 1988. In a short space of time, her physique had changed dramatically, showing marked gains in muscle mass and definition. Her performance also improved dramatically, too.

Shortly before the 1988 track season, her best times in the 100m and 200m, respectively, were 10.96s and 21.96s. This was improved by .47s and .62s in a flash. Flo Jo had become Flo Joe!

She increased her appearance fees 25 times what they were before. When she broke the 100m world record, the Association of Track and Field Statisticians stuttered, "The run was probably strongly wind assisted but is recognised as a world record." This despite the fact that during the race the wind meter measured 0.0m per second. She ended her career abruptly at her peak the following year.


It would be mischievous of me to suggest that this had anything to do with the imminent introduction of out-of-competition testing. When she died suddenly at the age of 38, the coroner requested that her body specifically be tested for steroids, but was informed that she did not have enough urine in her bladder.

The Lewis-Flo Jo era eventually gave way to the Justin Gatlin-Marion Jones era. They carted off all the gold medals until it was revealed that they, too, were using drugs.

I think it is typical American temerity that with such a rich history of drug cheating, the most successful of the drug cheats is going around the world casting unwarranted suspicion at other athletes. The possibility that a small, poor country, relying entirely on its own resources, could humble the richest country in the world is unthinkable to many.

Lewis cannot accept that success can come in any way different from how he achieved it. An ironic gloss to the Ben Johnson saga is that the gold medal was taken away and awarded to Lewis - the man who spoke scornfully about Johnson's drug use even before he was caught.

I have observed, sadly, that we are preoccupied with the claims of Johnson and Pound. When are we going to realise that there are some tremendous lessons that London is teaching us about ourselves and our potential?

Glenn Tucker is a former coach at Holmwood Technical. Email feedback to and