The Lou Marsh Legacy - Honouring Canada's Top Athletes

Ben Johnson

Track & Field


Photograph of Ben Johnson

Photograph of Ben Johnson

Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame

The Crushing Scandal of a Fallen Hero

Ben Johnson, (born December 30, 1961 in Falmouth, Jamaica) a former Canadian sprinter claimed the Lou Marsh Memorial Award in 1986 and 1987. The following are excerpts from the Toronto Star announcements of these awards and later developments that cloud his athletic achievements.

“After a big indoor season in which he dominated the short sprints, Johnson was the king of 100 metres on the world tracks. He defeated bitter rival Carl Lewis of the U.S., who had won four gold medals at the ‘84 Olympic Games, three times; ran the second fastest 100 in history, 9.95 seconds, at the Goodwill Games in Moscow; and earned two gold medals in the Commonwealth Games in Scotland in the 100 metres and 4-by-100 relay.” Orr, Frank. (1986, December 19). Johnson Wins Marsh Trophy, Toronto Star, p. B1.

“Johnson solidified his status as the fastest man on earth when he destroyed the world 100-metre record by an astonishing tenth of a second at the world track and field championships in Rome in August. It is a performance destined to become one of the greatest feats ever in track history, and to silence Lewis – at least for a while.
Two weeks after smashing the world record Johnson predicted the mark would be broken again in 1988 – by him, not Lewis. “I will run 9.78 next year,” Johnson said before winning an exhibition 200-metre race AT Brussels’ Heysel Stadium in September.” Ormsby, Mary. (1987, December 18). Jet-setter Johnson Wins Marsh Honour, Toronto Star, p. B1

1988 Summer Olympics, Seoul, South Korea, September 24, 1988
Eerily close to his prediction, Ben Johnson ran a new world record time of 9.79 seconds, defeating defending champion Carl Lewis from the United States. However, less than 72 hours later Johnson was stripped of his gold medal by the International Olympic Committee when his post-race drug test indicated anabolic steroid use. His record time of 9.79 seconds was rescinded along with his 1987 Rome record of 9.83 seconds.

“Ottawa – Ben Johnson will never again compete for his country. The federal government last night cut off funding for Johnson, and he was suspended from the national team for life, just hours after he was disqualified from the Olympics in Seoul and stripped of his gold medal for failing a drug test.” Walker, William. (1988, September 27). Stripped of Gold Medal, Johnson Banned For Life. Toronto Star, Front page.

During a lengthy inquiry, Ben Johnson would eventually admit to steroid use, however, he would never abandon his declaration that he was sabotaged in the testing room, claiming that he never took Stanozolol, the controversial steroid found in his body in Seoul.

And sadly, over twenty years later, doping scandals continue to plague sports. Even that fateful 100 metre final in Seoul still stirs up questions as Carl Lewis, Linford Christie and Dennis Mitchell – in the top five of the final heat – have tested positive for banned stimulants and substances in their careers.