I still remember jumping for joy as a young child back in 1988 when Ben Johnson blazed through the 100-metre dash course in a world record 9.79 seconds at the Summer Olympics that year in Seoul.
A Canadian (!) — yes, a Canadian — was the fastest man on Earth. I went to bed that night full of pride knowing that a fellow countryman was the best in the world at what he does.
I didn’t really notice the whites of Ben Johnson’s eyes were actually yellow due to excessive steroid use, nor did I realize that he may have been shot up with more stanozolol than the entire Kentucky Derby.
For that moment, he was a champion.
I remember my parents telling me a few days later that Johnson was a cheater and that he had used drugs to win. He was no longer the gold medallist, no longer the world record holder and not the best in the world.
Johnson was stripped of the gold medal and it was awarded to Carl Lewis of the U.S. Lewis was a clean runner (cough), did not use drugs to win and sings a mean national anthem (look it up on YouTube). So, Johnson was a cheater and Lewis was a champion.
If only it were that simple.
Which brings us to the modern dilemma of one Lance Armstrong. He fought cancer, won the Tour de France and inspired millions, but he’s also a cheater. He can deny it all he wants, but refusing to fight the USADA’s charges against him is akin to throwing up the white flag.
Armstrong is no different than Johnson, but he’s an American and helped start an annoying trend of wearing yellow bracelets. They both used performance-enhancing drugs to win in their respective sports, but Armstrong got away with it for longer because he could afford higher-end drugs and better masking agents.
Being able to purchase the highest quality PED’s were exactly what fuelled the home run craze in baseball in the late 1990s. The game had a huge revival after the strike in 1994 and as they say, chicks dig the long ball. McGwire, Sosa, Canseco… they all used steroids, but could afford the best and when their dirty little secret finally did come out, the vast majority of fans didn’t really care.
And that’s the whole point. For the most part, fans don’t care whether or not an athlete uses PEDs. They want to be entertained and if an athlete makes a personal choice to knowingly damage his or her body in long term for short-term gain, who are we to say they shouldn’t do so?
Unless you’re a Canadian sprinter. The reaction to that is exactly like Carl Lewis’ own reaction to his aforementioned anthem singing — “uh-oh.”