Johnson drug test soils track's cleanup image Possible steroid use is blow to reform TRACK AND FIELD

March 04, 1993|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,Staff Writer

For Ben Johnson, for Canada, for track and field, the story is all too familiar.

The Canadian sprinter begins to win races on two continents, closes in on records, boasts that he is "going to shake up the world again."

And then, reportedly, he fails a drug test.

Yesterday, track and field's war on performance-enhancing drugs may have come full circle when the Toronto Star reported that a January test showed Johnson had an abnormally high level of testosterone.

Johnson, through his attorneys, denied the allegation.

Ever since a positive drug test caused him to be stripped of his 100-meter gold medal and world record at the 1988 Summer Olympics and to be exiled from the sport for two years, Johnson has sought to portray himself as a man who had learned from his past mistakes.

But if found guilty this time by the International Amateur Athletics Federation, Johnson faces a lifetime ban.

"Mr. Johnson denies taking any prohibited substance or engaging in any improper practice since his return to competition," said a statement issued on his behalf by the Toronto law firm of McMillan Binch.

The firm also said that neither Johnson nor Athletics Canada had received notification of a positive drug test.

The Star, however, citing three unidentified sources, said Johnson produced a positive test for high testosterone, a symptom of performance-enhancing drugs that can aid an athlete during training.

The story sent a tremor through the world of track and field, which has been buffeted by drug controversies for more than five years.

"We don't know if the story is true, but if it is, it speaks well of our drug-testing system," said Joe Douglas, who manages the career of Carl Lewis.

"Oh, my goodness, what do desperate people do?" said John Hoberman, a University of Texas professor and author of "Mortal Engines: The Science of Performance and the Dehumanization of Sport."

"Even I'm surprised," Hoberman said. "But on the other hand it didn't look like normality was working the way dope did for Ben."

John Cook, head track and field coach at George Mason University and promoter of the Mobil 1 invitational meet, said: "It's pretty pathetic if it's true."

"The speed limit is 55 in track and field," he said. "That's the law and you've got to follow it. The people in track and field have made an effort to clean this sport up. And unfortunately, when you do this, skeletons come out of the closet, it's show-and-tell time, and it's not very pretty."

Among those who have been hit by drug-related suspensions are Mike Stulce and Jim Doehring, who finished 1-2 in the 1992 Olympic men's shot put event, German sprinter Katrin Krabbe and 400-meter world-record holder Butch Reynolds.

"Any time there are big names involved, there is an impression that there are a lot of problems," said two-time Olympic 400-meter hurdle gold medalist Edwin Moses. "That's not good for the sport. Over the past three or four years, there has been nothing but big names involved."

Johnson is by far the most celebrated track star to test positive.

Through the 1980s he was considered the world's fastest man, and he overpowered his bitter rival Lewis in the 1988 Olympic 100 final, winning in 9.79 seconds. But after Johnson tested positive for stanozolol, Lewis, who was timed in 9.92, received the gold.

Johnson served a two-year suspension and finally admitted his guilt at the 1990 Dubin inquiry, a $4 million royal commission.

After enduring subpar performances for more than two years, Johnson suddenly regained his speed this winter. In Grenoble, France, on Feb. 7, he won a 50-meter race in 5.65 seconds, just 0.04 off the world record.

According to the Star, Johnson was tested three times in six days in January -- at indoor meets in Hamilton, Ontario, and Montreal -- and produced a urine sample with a high testosterone level. That prompted officials to force the sprinter to undergo another test in Toronto.

Under Canadian drug-testing procedures, an athlete's urine sample is split into two parts. If the first sample tests positive, the athlete is suspended pending the opening of the second sample.

A source told the Star that IAAF doping officer, Bryan Wotton of London, observed the opening of Johnson's second sample last month at the International Olympic Committee-accredited lab in Montreal.

Yesterday, the IAAF confirmed that it was investigating the Johnson case.

IAAF officials acknowledged that a meeting of the organization's five-member doping commission will be held tomorrow in Paris. It is Johnson's case that will be discussed.

"We will stick to our procedures," IAAF general secretary Istvan Gyulai told The Associated Press. "In no way do we speculate on anything before it is 100 percent confirmed evidence. Otherwise, we might ruin the lives of people."

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