Ben John­son was the only track-and-field ath­lete dis­qual­i­fied for dop­ing at the 1988 Olympics. A re­port kept un­der wraps for 30 years re­veals that the Cana­dian sprinter was shown no mercy by Olympic of­fi­cials, while oth­ers re­ceived le­niency


An Olympic anti-dop­ing re­port kept se­cret for 30 years has re­vealed that some ath­letes at the Seoul Sum­mer Games, in­clud­ing two medal­lists, es­caped pun­ish­ment for po­ten­tial drug in­frac­tions while oth­ers — in­clud­ing world cham­pion Cana­dian sprinter Ben John­son — were sum­mar­ily dis­qual­i­fied.

De­tails con­tained in the 1988 Olympic Med­i­cal Com­mis­sion doc­u­ments ob­tained by the Star pro­vide the first of­fi­cial ac­count­ing of how top anti-dop­ing sci­en­tists re­sponded to the Games’ cheat­ing ath­letes and, in par­tic­u­lar, how they han­dled the Olympics’ most ex­plo­sive and en­dur­ing drug scan­dal: John­son’s pos­i­tive test for an an­abolic steroid.

Quick back­ground: On Sept. 24, 1988, John­son, then 26, won the Olympic 100 me­tres in world record time, beat­ing Amer­i­can archri­val Carl Lewis in the Games’ most hyped show­down. Three days later, the Toronto run­ner was stripped of his medal and his record, and was fly­ing home from Seoul in dis­grace. Lewis was awarded the gold.

Though John­son would later ad­mit that he, in fact, had used banned an­abolic steroids dur­ing train­ing, his story re­mains com­pelling as more de­tails about his treat­ment in Seoul — in­clud­ing his with­held lab re­port and alterations made to parts of it, a Star in­ves­ti­ga­tion found — con­tinue to emerge three decades later.

When asked about the new rev­e­la­tions, John­son, who reg­u­larly deals with the pub­lic dur­ing his trav­els for speak­ing en­gage­ments, said his story strikes them the same way he sees it. “Peo­ple think, ‘Who in their right mind would take some­thing (banned) lead­ing up to Games, know­ing they’re go­ing to win at the Games and that they will be tested?’ ” said John­son, a 57year-old grand­fa­ther of three. The In­ter­na­tional Olympic Com­mit­tee (IOC) did not re­turn a re­quest for com­ment on the re­port’s re­lease.

The 134-page med­i­cal com­mis­sion doc­u­ment makes it clear there was no ben­e­fit of the doubt for John­son. He was the lone track-and-field ath­lete dis­qual­i­fied from Seoul for dop­ing.

John­son told the Star he was “tar­geted” for dis­qual­i­fi­ca­tion, say­ing: “I came in clean and came out dirty”

In­for­ma­tion in the re­port sug­gests the IOC’s anti-dop­ing po­lice dou­bled down on quash­ing the Cana­dian’s the­ory that sab­o­tage could ex­plain the pres­ence in his urine of the me­tab­o­lites of stanozolol, a mus­cle­build­ing steroid com­monly used in train­ing pe­ri­ods prior to com­pe­ti­tions. John­son had claimed a stranger in the dop­ing con­trol room after the race sat close to him and could have spiked his beer.

In a de­par­ture from its rou­tine, the com­mis­sion pre­sented an un­of­fi­cial test­ing method to de­tect long-term steroid use as ad­di­tional damn­ing ev­i­dence against John­son — a method not ap­plied to other ath­letes dis­cussed in the archived doc­u­ment as proof of cheat­ing. In ad­di­tion, one com­mis­sion mem­ber pro­posed to block at­tempts by John­son to chal­lenge his dop­ing in­frac­tion by not per­mit­ting fu­ture tests on the run­ner’s race-day wa­ter bot­tle and his other med­i­ca­tions to un­der­mine the Seoul find­ings. (Later test­ing would show that the wa­ter bot­tle was free of steroid traces.)

Mean­while, oth­ers re­ceived le­niency. That in­cluded a group of track-and-field ath­letes from the U.S. and Bri­tain, ac­cord­ing to the IOC doc­u­ment.

Eight un­named Amer­i­cans, tested dur­ing com­pe­ti­tion shortly be­fore the Games, were not sanc­tioned after their cases were dis­cussed in Seoul. Star British sprinter Lin­ford Christie barely avoided Olympic dis­qual­i­fi­ca­tion, de­spite one com­mis­sion mem­ber declar­ing Christie’s test re­sult after the 200 me­tres “a clear case of dop­ing.”

In the 100-me­tre race, Christie was awarded the sil­ver medal after John­son was sent home. The British run­ner passed his drug test in that sprint, held a few days be­fore the 200 me­tres, with­out in­ci­dent.

John­son main­tains he was “tar­geted” at the Games for dis­qual­i­fi­ca­tion.

“I came in clean and came out dirty,” he said in an in­ter­view.

In most Olympics dur­ing the early days of com­pe­ti­tion, chal­lenges with venues and lo­gis­tics arise. Seoul was no dif­fer­ent. The med­i­cal com­mis­sion re­port noted there were se­cu­rity prob­lems at dop­ing con­trol rooms and lab is­sues, in­clud­ing:

New “wide-necked bot­tles” for ath­letes’ urine sam­ples some­times leaked, caus­ing po­ten­tial prob­lems with la­belling num­bers “as some bot­tles had been re­placed”; peo­ple with­out spe­cial iden­ti­fi­ca­tion passes were en­ter­ing se­cure dop­ing con­trol room ar­eas (where ath­letes pro­vided sam­ples) — in one case, an overly cu­ri­ous Turk­ish team doc­tor was forci- bly re­moved from vol­ley­ball’s con­trol room; four “in­stru­ments” in the main IOC an­ti­dop­ing lab broke dur­ing the Games, push­ing lab test­ing to ca­pac­ity mid­way through the Olympics.

One thing that pleased the com­mis­sion was the skill of the main lab where urine sam­ples, col­lected at var­i­ous sports venues around Seoul, would be an­a­lyzed for a long list of pro­hib­ited sub­stances. It re­ported to its mem­bers that a pair of planted sam­ples by sys­tem testers had been cor­rectly iden­ti­fied.

“Two test pos­i­tive sam­ples had been placed among the box­ing con­trols and had been suc­cess­fully de­tected by the lab­o­ra­tory for (the an­abolic steroid) oxan­drolone and caf­feine,” it was noted in a meet­ing on Sept. 19, 1988.

Oxan­drolone was printed on John­son’s 1988 lab re­port pa­per­work, then scratched out. Stanozolol was the fi­nal find­ing.

In Seoul, med­i­cal com­mis­sion mem­bers didn’t al­ways agree among them­selves when con­sid­er­ing ath­letes’ ex­pla­na­tions for dop­ing in­frac­tions.

In Christie’s case, for in­stance, there was a “lengthy dis­cus­sion” among mem­bers after which “it was de­cided that that ath­lete should be given the ben­e­fit of the doubt” that the lev­els of pseudo-ephedrine in his sys­tem were linked to gin­seng con­sump­tion. The vote was not unan­i­mous. Christie’s case was pub­licly dis­cussed dur­ing the Seoul Games by British Olympic team of­fi­cials.

As for the two Olympic medal­lists who avoided sanc­tions, the Star is not iden­ti­fy­ing them other than to say they were not track-and-field ath­letes.

The eight Amer­i­can ath­letes had their iden­ti­ties pro­tected in the med­i­cal com­mis­sion re­port while al­most ev­ery other ath­lete with po­ten­tial dop­ing in­frac­tions was iden­ti­fied — in- clud­ing one ath­lete who had also tested pos­i­tive for a banned sub­stance prior to the Seoul Games.

(One un­named cy­clist is men­tioned in med­i­cal com­mis­sion notes, ref­er­enc­ing his “low con­cen­tra­tion of an an­abolic steroid be­cause of cream ap­plied in his trousers.” It’s un­clear if the cy­clist was in Seoul; there were no more de­tails about him.)

The Amer­i­can cases went be­fore In­ter­na­tional Am­a­teur Ath­let­ics Fed­er­a­tion of­fi­cials, who lis­tened to a pre­sen­ta­tion from the United States Olympic Com­mit­tee on Sept. 19, ac­cord­ing to med­i­cal com­mis­sion notes. The notes go on to state that “the cases had con­cerned over-the-counter herbal prepa­ra­tions con­tain­ing ephedrine” and that the IAAF “was sat­is­fied with the re­port sub­mit­ted and ruled that no sanc­tions would be taken and the case was now closed.”

In 2003, Sports Il­lus­trated re­ported that at the 1988 U.S. Olympic tri­als, Carl Lewis tested pos­i­tive three times for “small amounts” of banned stim­u­lants found in cold med­i­ca­tions. Lewis was ini­tially dis­qual­i­fied from the Seoul Games but the USOC over­turned the de­ci­sion on his ap­peal, agree­ing that it was in­ad­ver­tent dop­ing, the sports mag­a­zine re­ported.

Lewis is not named in the1988 IOC Med­i­cal Com­mis­sion re­port.

When John­son’s case came be­fore the com­mis­sion, it was all over in about three hours.

In Seoul in 1988, Mon­treal lawyer Richard Pound — who was a well-re­garded IOC vi­cepres­i­dent — de­fended John­son. Nei­ther John­son nor his coach, the late Char­lie Fran­cis, at­tended the hear­ing; oth­ers,

in­clud­ing Roger Jack­son, then the pres­i­dent of the Cana­dian Olympic As­so­ci­a­tion, and Cana­dian chief med­i­cal of­fi­cer Wil­liam Stan­ish, an or­tho­pe­dic sur­geon, were at the ses­sion that be­gan at10 p.m. on Sept. 26.

The 1988 re­port stated that early in the meet­ing, it was noted that com­mis­sion mem­ber Prof. Man­fred Donike had been “re­spon­si­ble for the anal­y­sis of the B sam­ple” and he ex­plained the find­ings to the group. The B-sam­ple test­ing con­firmed the steroid find­ings in John­son’s A sam­ple.

Ac­cord­ing to the re­port, Pound told the com­mis­sion the Cana­dian del­e­ga­tion didn’t want to chal­lenge the sci­en­tific re­sults but broached a “cer­tain lack of se­cu­rity” be­tween the end of the 100-me­tre fi­nal and the time John­son pro­vided his urine sam­ple, at the dop­ing con­trol sta­tion at the trackand-field sta­dium.

The re­port goes on to say Pound “stressed the build-up which had sur­rounded the 100m race and the two prin­ci­ple ath­letes (John­son and Lewis) in­volved” and that Pound “felt there had been a gen­eral break­down in pro­ce­dures fol­low­ing the race, ren­der­ing the re­sult of the dop­ing tests ques­tion­able.”

Pound stated that peo­ple who ac­com­pa­nied John­son to dop­ing con­trol, in­clud­ing an RCMP of­fi­cer as­signed to the ath­lete, claimed there were “many other peo­ple in the dope con­trol sta­tion other than those whose pres­ence was re­quired for the test.”

The lawyer also raised the pos­si­bil­ity that John­son’s wa­ter bot­tle had been tam­pered with when he put it in a bas­ket with his warm-up clothes to race. Pound told com­mis­sion mem­bers a stranger was in the dop­ing con­trol room, of­fer­ing to get the sprinter beer (John­son got his own) but who sat “very close to the ath­lete.” Ac­cord­ing to meet­ing notes, it was later al- leged — though it’s un­clear by whom — that the un­known per­son had been seen with Lewis, which com­mis­sion chair­man Alexan­dre de Merode “pointed out as pos­si­bly quite harm­less.”

(The Star tracked down the stranger, a friend of Carl Lewis’ named An­dre Jack­son, in a 2016 in­ves­ti­ga­tion.) Be­fore the com­mis­sion, Pound de­scribed John­son as “a slow learner” but an ath­lete who “re­tained the im­por­tance of col­lect­ing his own beer.”

Pound fur­ther ex­panded the sab­o­tage the­ory — a the­ory that would be de­bunked later at a royal com­mis­sion.

He said stanozolol was a drug that me­tab­o­lized quickly, “thus fa­vor­ing its use should any­one wish to ‘frame’ some­one else,” and that it tight­ened mus­cles, some­thing not “sought for by a sprinter,” ac­cord­ing to re­port notes. Pound added John­son was an ex­pe­ri­enced ath­lete who knew he’d be tested after an Olympic race; had been tested sev­eral times in 1988 with all re­sults neg­a­tive; and “that con- sider­ing the rea­son­able doubt which sur­rounded the test, an ath­lete of such cal­i­bre was en­ti­tled to the ben­e­fit of the doubt.” The anti-dop­ing ex­perts pushed back.

Dr. Arne Ljungqvist, a Swedish com­mis­sion mem­ber who was also chair­man of the In­ter­na­tional Am­a­teur Ath­let­ics Fed­er­a­tion Med­i­cal Com­mis­sion, was in the dop­ing con­trol room when John­son ar­rived after his race. Ljungqvist said he ques­tioned staff there, but “staff were con­vinced that no unau­tho­rized per­sons had been present,” ac­cord­ing to the meet­ing notes.

Even so, the archived doc­u­ment states that “re­gard­ing en­try of the unau­tho­rized per­sons to the dope con­trol sta­tion,” Ljungqvist re­ported that a large sign had been placed after the con­cern was raised at the en­trance to the track-and-field dop­ing con­trol room.

Prof. Donike told the Cana­dian del­e­ga­tion that sab­o­tage was not con­sis­tent with the steroid pro­file in­ter­preted from the failed test — mean­ing longterm use was de­tected by the en­docrine pro­fil­ing method Donike had pi­o­neered.

He also ac­knowl­edged the mag­ni­tude of John­son’s predica­ment. Donike, who is now de­ceased, said “the en­tire com­mis­sion was per­fectly aware of the im­pli­ca­tions of a pos­i­tive case for such an ath­lete and for sport in gen­eral.”

Pound “clar­i­fied” that John­son had a neg­a­tive test just weeks ear­lier at a Zurich race. After that, the Cana­di­ans, in­clud­ing Pound, left the meet­ing room, and de Merode opened the floor for dis­cus­sion.

Be­hind closed doors, Donike said a neg­a­tive test be­fore the Games “was of no con­se­quence” and con­cluded “a sin­gle dose ap­pli­ca­tion just prior to test­ing could be ex­cluded.” Donike was the com­mis­sion mem­ber who didn’t want John­son’s test chal­lenged by analy­ses of his wa­ter bot­tle or med­i­ca­tions, ac­cord­ing to the archived doc­u­ment. Chair­man de Merode asked for opin­ions in the room, in­clud­ing that of an IAAF rep­re­sen­ta­tive. After that, “the Com­mis­sion voted unan­i­mously for the ex­clu­sion of Ben John­son from the Games of the XXIVth Olympiad in Seoul.” The com­mis­sion’s rec­om­men­da­tion, which came at about 12:45 a.m. Sept. 27, 1988, was for­warded to the IOC’s ex­ec­u­tive board later that morn­ing. The board ac­cepted it and John­son was dis­qual­i­fied. He lost his medal and his world record of 9.79 sec­onds.

Thirty years later, John­son said Pound didn’t ag­gres­sively de­fend him be­fore the IOC Med­i­cal Com­mis­sion.

“I be­lieve he didn’t reach out far enough or strong enough to pro­tect me,” John­son said, after learn­ing more about the re­port.

In fact, the re­port refers to the ethics of whether Pound was in a con­flict. One mem­ber, Dr. Ken­neth Fitch of Aus­tralia, didn’t feel it was “cor­rect for an IOC vice-pres­i­dent to ap­pear be­fore the IOC Med­i­cal Com­mis­sion in or­der to pro­tect an ath­lete from his coun­try.” The com­mis­sion unan­i­mously re­quested that de Merode speak to the IOC pres­i­dent, Juan An­to­nio Sa­ma­ranch, “to en­sure that such a sit­u­a­tion did not oc­cur in the fu­ture.”

Pound says he had pre­vi­ously cleared the mat­ter with Sa­ma­ranch.

In a re­cent phone in­ter­view, Pound said he’s never seen the Olympic Med­i­cal Com­mis­sion doc­u­ment from 1988. He also said sci­ence made it clear that pre­par­ing any de­fence of John­son in Seoul would be dif­fi­cult.

“If you’re caught with the sam­ple be­ing an­a­lyzed con­tain­ing the stanozolol me­tab­o­lites, you’re dead,” Pound said.

You might feel like Rus­sia is go­ing to get away with it, and this be­ing the world that it is, you’re prob­a­bly right.

At least partly right, any­way. Yes, the World Anti-Dop­ing Agency has fi­nally been al­lowed into the in­fa­mous Moscow lab, and fi­nally has ac­cess to the thou­sands of sus­pi­cious urine sam­ples from the state-spon­sored dop­ing years be­fore 2015. Just look for the ones that glow in the dark.

Well, that’s if they’re even the real sam­ples, and peo­ple across anti-dop­ing won­der if they are. It’s taken over two years to grant in­ves­ti­ga­tors ac­cess to the lab, and now the shadow of ac­tual pun­ish­ment looms: WADA’s com­pli­ance com­mit­tee meets in Mon­treal Mon­day and Tues­day, and if they rec­om­mend a re­turn to non-com­pli­ance for Rus­sia’s anti-dop­ing ap­pa­ra­tus, then WADA’s ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee can vote to re-sus­pend Rus­sia. Ooooooh.

So the real ques­tion is, how are they go­ing to get out of this one? The pun­ish­ment wouldn’t be small: Rus­sian ath­letes would be banned from in­ter­na­tional com­pe­ti­tion, and lu­cra­tivein-the-right-hands Rus­sian bids for in­ter­na­tional events sus­pended, un­til RU­SADA is back in the good books. In­di­vid­ual sports fed­er­a­tions could charge the spe­cific ath­letes, and strip medals.

Of all the things Rus­sia has faced after ex­e­cut­ing the most thor­ough and cyn­i­cal state-spon­sored dop­ing scheme in mod­ern times, se­ri­ous pun­ish­ment has rarely been among them.

So there has to be an an­gle, be­cause the idea that Rus­sia is cor­nered has al­ways been a dream. As Cana­dian IOC mem­ber Dick Pound thun­dered dur­ing

the Pyeongchang Games, the IOC worked much harder to keep Rus­sia in the Olympics than to cast Rus­sia out. Their track and field ath­letes have been banned since the Rio Olympics be­cause track and field’s gov­ern­ing body showed un­ex­pected spine, which was em­u­lated by pre­cisely no­body. Rus­sian ath­letes had to wear dif­fer­ent clothes for three weeks in Pyeongchang, and didn’t get to carry their flag. Their fans did, though.

And then the In­ter­na­tional Olympic Com­mit­tee re­in­stated the Rus­sian Olympic Com­mit­tee an en­tire week after those Olympics ended, even though WADA had not re-ac­cred­ited the dop­ing side. IOC pres­i­dent Thomas Bach has since sig­nalled that as far as the IOC is con­cerned, Rus­sia has suf­fered enough.

Maybe the way Rus­sia pays money to host in­ter­na­tional events, and the way it has threaded peo­ple through all the right in­ter­na­tional sports fed­er­a­tions, has made a dif­fer­ence. Maybe the IOC just never wants to com­pletely ban a coun­try from a Games, be­cause what if China, or Kenya, or Ja­maica — all of which have had some brushes with what looks like prob­lems — are up next?

“The other piece is they ac­tu­ally just don’t care about clean sport,” said one source with deep knowl­edge of the an­ti­dop­ing move­ment. The ath­letes, the level play­ing field and all that, that’s not a pri­or­ity for them, and it never has been, and this has just ex­posed that in a whole new scale. They are the busi­ness of sport.”

At some point, it seems the IOC de­cided that even the pre­tense of car­ing didn’t mat­ter enough to bother. So there has to be an an­gle here, an es­cape hatch. WADA had al­ready soft­ened the con­di­tions for Rus­sia’s re-en­try, which in­cluded ac­cess to the lab by Dec. 31, 2018.

Bach has made it clear that if WADA pun­ishes Rus­sia, it stands alone.

The true hearts of the clean sport move­ment don’t want to go on the record, and don’t know what to ex­pect other than the usual dis­ap­point­ment. WADA’s mid-De­cem­ber visit seemed promis­ing, but was cut short “due to an is­sue raised by the Rus­sian au­thor­i­ties that the team’s equip­ment to be used for the data ex­trac­tion was re­quired to be cer­ti­fied un­der Rus­sian law.”

Which does not sound at all like an ex­cuse you would use in a sit­com about a rule-break­ing Moscow drug test­ing lab whose em­ploy­ees were in the other room try­ing to fran­ti­cally re­place all the urine sam­ples with pee from one un­lucky lab em­ployee who drew the short straw. HURRY UP, ALEXEI!

But the big sus­pense now is how Rus­sia gets off the hook. As­sum­ing WADA doesn’t kick the de­ci­sion down the road — the data will take some time to be ver­i­fied — then the next eight days are a fork in an al­ready crooked road. Maybe WADA’s com­pli­ance com­mit­tee finds a way to de­cide that get­ting ac­cess — even late ac­cess — ful­fils the re­quire­ments, es­pe­cially with RU­SADA it­self be­ing cur­rently run by peo­ple who are say­ing all the right things.

Maybe the ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee takes its sig­nal from the IOC and says in­di­vid­ual ath­letes might be sac­ri­ficed, but Rus­sia it­self can carry for­ward.

And then there’s that slim chance that Rus­sia pays for its sport­ing crimes, if be­tween Olympics, be­cause even all the money in the world can’t rig the whole sys­tem.

But oth­er­wise, the anti-dop­ing move­ment, bat­tered by Pyeongchang, by Thomas Bach, by WADA it­self, will wait for that es­cape hatch.

The best chance for real pun­ish­ment has passed; what­ever’s left can still en­rage those who want the fight for clean sport to be some­thing more than a mar­ket­ing slo­gan.

WADA is this lit­tle un­der­funded thing, in­creas­ingly iso­lated, at sea among much more pow­er­ful tides. The IOC has made it clear it prizes other things. It’s up to WADA to prove what it cares about, and how much.

You might feel like Rus­sia is go­ing to get away with it. You wouldn’t be alone.

At some point, it seems the IOC de­cided that even the pre­tense of car­ing didn’t mat­ter enough to bother



Ben John­son main­tains he was “tar­geted” for dis­qual­i­fi­ca­tion at the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games.


Ben John­son, with his Aus­tralian friend Jamie Fuller and two cam­era op­er­a­tors, stand out­side the IOC head­quar­ters in Lau­sanne in 2013. John­son, Fuller and the film crew made a video on the 25th an­niver­sary of the Seoul Olympics. New doc­u­ments have just been re­leased from the IOC.

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