Charlie and Ben
Charlie Francis, the coach who led Ben Johnson first to fame when he won the 1988 Gold Medal for the 100 metre run, and then to infamy when Johnson tested postive for banned substances, was laid to rest earlier this week. Francis lost a long battle with cancer and is survived by wife Angelo Coon, and son James, 11.
Other then as a pitchman for an energy drink, Johnson has kept a low profile the last decade. He did, of course, attempt a comeback after the disgrace of Seoul, but will always be remembered as the athlete who woke Canadians out of their blindness. Up until the doping scandal, most Canadians wanted to believe, and probably did, that our athletes were clean. It was naive, because at the time, steroid use (and other banned substances or procedures) was rampant in different levels of international competition One only had to look at the former Soviet East Bloc nations to see clear evidence of HGH and analobic steroid use.
In order to compete on a level playing field, you had to dope. At least, that was the philosophy of Charlie, and many around him. It was a double edged sword. Don't cheat, and you don't come close to winning. Cheat, and you thwart the very ethics of sport.
We learned a lot from the Dubin Inquiry and the fallout that followed. For me, as a young journalist and former confirmed gym rat (my degree is in Phys Ed), it didn't really faze me. A few years earlier, on my student newspaper, a story had unearthed the very same issues which came into focus in '88. The story focused on coaching staff of the UWO track and field team advising student-athletes if they wanted to compete internationally, they needed to "juice."
When the Johnson story broke, there were names that came up in following investigations which tied back to my former school.
But this week, some of those memories came back to me. I was a little surprised there was little media coverage (Toronto Star, Toronto Sun, Reuters and one TV camera) of the passing of Francis. I expected more, but at the same time glad to not see the funeral turn into a media circus rehashing the misdeeds of 22 years ago.
On a personal level, it was comforting to see Ben (looking pretty good, I might say) and Charlie (Ben was a pallbearer) kept a level of their relationship. They both believed in what they were doing, unfortunately, they discovered the hard way, 'Winning at All Cost' is not the way to win the hearts of Canadians.
Ben Johnson (right) speaks with Barry Francis, brother of Charlie, as they wait outside the church for the start of the funeral.