TWENTY-FIVE years on from his infamous failed drugs test after ‘winning’ gold in the 100 metres at the Olympic Games in Seoul, Ben Johnson has said he feels sorry for fellow disgraced sportsman Lance Armstrong.
In an interview with ‘insidethegames’ Canadian Johnson, whose world record were annulled following a positive test in 1988, has jumped to the defence of Armstrong, who was stripped of his seven Tour de France titles following doping admissions.
“We are all human beings,” said Johnson. “We all make mistakes in life. I feel for him.
“Hopefully he will overcome the situation - but it’s going to be tough for quite a while. I should know. It’s a situation you have to live with all the time. I wish him the best.”
Johnson, 51, will return to Seoul Olympic Stadium on Tuesday to mark the 25th anniversary of his 100m victory. He has been fronting an anti-doping campaign - Choose The Right Track - which has taken him to the United Kingdom, the United States, Australia and Japan.
Johnson - who won two gold medals at the 1986 Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh - gained notoriety for his run in South Korea. He streaked home ahead of Carl Lewis and Linford Christie in a then-world record time of 9.79 seconds. However, he was stripped of the medal and shamed when his urine samples were found to contain the banned steroid stanozolol, which he had been using to help develop himself into a super-human sprinter.
‘Dirtiest race in history’
Five of the eight finalists in Seoul failed drugs tests at various stages of their careers, leading to the 1988 race being branded the “dirtiest race in history”. It is Johnson, however, who is the most notorious.
“Every time people talk about a doping positive people talk about Ben Johnson,” he added. “But now I’m just trying to get the message across. “I’m happy I’m doing this, deep down in my heart.
“When I was doing drugs I knew I wasn’t doing it right. Not a lot has changed in the last 25 years.
“People are still testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs like they were when I was competing.
“Twenty five years ago I knew that other people were doping and I had the decision of whether I should do it or not. I felt like I needed to try and please people in my camp. I felt like most of the athletes I was going to be competing against would be doing the same thing.
“Twenty five years on, as an older man, I see people making the same mistake. The way it can change is if athletes can have someone to talk to who will tell them the right decision to take. It’s not just about punishment. You have to light the candle at both ends.
“You need to be talking to 17-18 year olds who are heading for the Youth Olympics or the junior World Championships. You need to give them information and to get into their minds. This is the way you have to try to stop this generation moving forward in the wrong direction.
“Athletes have to work together on this. I think it can be done.”