Olympics: The race to see who’s faster
BEIJING ó According to tradition, the winner of the men’s Olympic 100-meter dash is celebrated as the world’s fastest human.
Given the checkered history of some of the champions over the last two decades, that title seems outdated.
The label “world’s fastest to find chemical enhancement” seems a more fitting nickname since Ben Johnson’s positive steroid test at the 1988 Games meant that the first question after every Olympic final isn’t how fast the winner ran but whether he ó or she ó was clean.
Track and field’s shortest sprint used to be the Games’ most glamorous event. It’s a classic drama, the most basic of human activities on the world’s biggest athletic stage.
Run fast. First to the finish line wins. No judges to conspire against worthy winners and with no mysterious scoring system to decipher.
The 2008 race itself is as fascinating as ever, and the prospect of U.S. champion Tyson Gay, world record holder Usain Bolt of Jamaica and fellow Jamaican Asafa Powell meeting in the Beijing final on Aug. 16 is tantalizing.
The difference, first made clear with Johnson’s positive test and subsequent admission he had been doping for years and reinforced with Marion Jones’ surrender of her Sydney medals, is that the main drama now lies in separating the dirty from the deserving.
“For better or worse,” said Olympic historian and author David Wallechinsky, “I suspect that the men’s 100 and the women’s 100 will survive all of the deservedly bad press they have received.”
Drugs began to take center stage in Seoul. Johnson burst out of the blocks and crossed the finish line in 9.79 seconds but the next day he tested positive for stanozolol, a banned steroid. Testing of his “B” sample confirmed the result, and he was disqualified with Carl Lewis declared the winner.
Linford Christie of Great Britain, who finished third behind Johnson and Lewis at Seoul, tested positive for traces of the prohibited stimulant pseudoephedrine but was allowed to keep his medal after successfully blaming the reading on a ginseng product.
Christie won gold at Barcelona in 1992 and always maintained he was clean ó but he tested positive for metabolites of nandrolone, a banned steroid, at an indoor meet in Dortmund, Germany, in 1999 and was banned for two years.
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