When last we left Ben Johnson in the continuing athletic drama "As the Whirl Returns," the Canadian sprinter had been beaten for the second time along the comeback trail with no apparent harm to his optimism.
"As time goes on, I feel I will run better," Johnson said. "Because each race I run, I will go faster and faster. I think everything will fall in place by the time of the [indoor] season's finish.
"A lot of people will think I won't be able to run faster because I was on the drugs," Johnson added, referring to the steroid use that led to his two-year suspension and his being stripped of two world records and his 1988 Olympic gold medal.
"They will soon see they are wrong. I have the same speed as two years ago. I think I can run fast enough to win the gold medal in Barcelona [at the 1992 Games]."
If, indeed, such glorious achievement lies ahead for Johnson, 29, it was none too apparent in his most recent performance, in Los Angeles, the only U.S. stop on his 1991 indoor schedule.
In the Sunkist Invitational 50-meter -- Friday, Andre Cason, 22, rocketed out of the blocks to put Johnson and Frank Fredericks one stride behind. Things remained that way to the finish line as Cason rolled to a meet record and lifetime best of 5.69 seconds -- the fifth-best U.S. indoor performance of all time.
Johnson was a well-beaten second in 5.74 seconds, though he did improve on the 5.77 he had run a week earlier in Ontario.
Johnson contended the confining width of the running lanes had put him at a disadvantage. "That makes it very hard to react off the gun."
Controversy and confidence seem all that remain unchanged with Johnson.
His shoulders used to carry bulging deltoids reminiscent of bowling balls, and his sculpted chest and thighs could have passed for those of a bodybuilder.
Today, he has a softer, leaner look and is almost pudgy in the face. Gone are the sullen glower and stare.