A quarter of a century later, what's really changed?
I find it hard to fathom that it’s been 25 years – a quarter of a damn century – since Ben Johnson’s jaw-dropping run and stunning positive test rocked the sports world after the 100 metres at the Seoul Olympics.
But here’s a question:
Has anything really changed?
I’d suggest no.
The drugs are better, the cheaters more discreet, the testing is better, the testers are more conscientious and thorough but, really, doesn’t it feel like it’s just been one vicious circle since that fateful weekend?
I have long held that Ben was a bit of a scapegoat, he’s was silly enough to get caught and was held up as the devil of the sport when in reality, I would have bet big money that he wasn’t the only drug cheat in the race that so captured the imagination of the country and the world.
He was vilified simply because he was caught, the ensuing Dubin Inquiry was an exercise in Canadian soul-cleansing and hand-wringing we felt necessary but an exercise that turned out to be simply an inward looking recanting and explaining of what was going on around the world back in those days.
Was he wrong to take a cocktail of steroids over a number of years in pursuit of fame and fortune and a place in history? Of course he was, I can’t abide those who cheat the sport and he – and so many others – did precisely that.
It ruined track for many of us and that continues to this day. It’s hard to look at any amazing feat of speed or athleticism even now and not think about what went into the process of achieving it, it’s made us all more cynical and less trusting and, in fact, less interested.
Too bad. It truly is too bad; to this day the spectre of drugs and steroids and heavens knows what hangs over the sport, fairly or unfairly and for that we should never totally forgive the sprinters of that era.
But remember what it was like?
That race, that 9.79, was one of those moments that galvanizes a country of fans. I remember being in a packed bar that went silent around midnight that Friday night before it erupted into a huge celebration when the time was posted. It was one of those moments I don’t think you’d ever forget.
And this was even fearing what was coming. I worked at the time at the Toronto Sun and we had two of the very best Olympic sports reporters on earth on staff in Stumpy and The Pick and the best sports editor I ever worked for in Wayne Parrish and they had worked tirelessly in the months before the Seoul Olympics investigating all kinds of whispers and innuendo and I just wonder how differently things would have turned out had they been able to truly nail the story sometime before the Olympics.
That weekend represented a sea change in how we viewed one of the most famous athletes on the planet and a sport that should be so simple yet turned out to be so sneaky and corrupt and dirty that to this day, it’s seen in a different light.
But in the intervening quarter of a century, that’s about the only thing that’s changed: Our perception of the sport.
Other than that, I fear it’s same old, same old in too many regards.
Cleaner? A bit, sure. And the athletes who compete clean should be lauded and appreciated and honoured. They push themselves to incredible personal limits to achieve their goals, it’s too bad the level of cynicism exists.
And that’s Ben’s shame.
Oh, the dopey Toronto professor; not the more entertaining one.
This is way better, no?
So, how about those Canadian women?
No, it was not pretty by any stretch of the imagination but it was a huge, a 53-40 win over Cuba gave them a perfect 4-0 record in the first round of the FIBA Americas world qualification tournament and if they beat Puerto Rico in Friday’s semifinal, they’re in.
The offence wasn’t particularly pretty – Cuba defends pretty well and can be disruptive – but the defence was outstanding, they dominated the boards, only gave up 10 points in the entire second half and won going away.
It is a measure, I believe, of a good team that when things get ugly, they buckle down and Canada gutted out that win. They played harder than the Cubans and tougher and just went and got the game.
And I know it’s never wise to look ahead but if they get Puerto Rico on Friday, everything points to Canada-Brazil for the gold medal Saturday and, trust me, that’ll be a doozy.
But the story of last night was toughness and mental resolve, something this team has in spades.
Paying attention yet?
And, oh yeah: Sportsnet?
You better find a way to put that Friday game on live on one of the zillion channels you own. Bump something, move something, pre-empt something.
You owe to these women, it’s a good story and shame on you for shuffling this off to NBA TV Canada and using horrid announcers and canned halftime shows as it is.
Double shame if you blow it Friday and Saturday.
Please. A good amount yesterday to get us started but need lots more to make the weekend worthwhile and I really hope to have another delightful Saturday loafing and multi-tasking in Edmonton like I did in Calgary.
It’s firstname.lastname@example.org and you know I love to hear from you.
This little bit from my good friend Mark Woods over in Britain after he returned from Slovenia and the EuroBasket.
There were, and are, some concerns in Lithuania that Jonas Valanciunas may have bulked up a bit too much, at least for the style of play they like. Mark talked to Jonas Kazlauskas, Lithuania’s head coach, who was a bit worried that Valanciunas has sacrificed speed for bulk.
“He's a good blocker and good rebounder but he needs to improve his jump shot a little. After that, I don't agree that he will be much more heavy in the future. I think he needs to be stronger, not heavier.”
Now, I haven’t seen Valanciunas in person since July and he was obviously bigger then than he was last year – a natural phenomenon for a 20-something – and pictures from EuroBasket sure showed a thicker kid.
But I’m not sure that’s a bad thing for his NBA career, where he’ll be hit a bit more by bigger guys all season. The question is if he has indeed lost a step or two because beating guys with quickness was one of his developing skills.
Guess we’ll find out in the next few weeks.
(And since the team lives there I know someone can help a fellow out)
I need a place close to the downtown Courtyard where, if the time works, I might be able to see the women’s basketball semifinal on Friday night.
Oh, and any general stool recommendations in my neighbourhood for that evening would be gratefully accepted.
And while I actually have a bit of a craving and tend to enjoy it tremendously, I need something a bit more upscale than, say, McDonalds.