Benjamin Sinclair "Ben" Johnson is a Jamaican-born Canadian former sprinter who set consecutive 100 meters world records at the 1987 World Championships in Athletics and the1988 Summer Olympics. But his glory did not last long and he fell to disgrace soon after winning the Olympic gold in the 100 meters race after he failed a doping test and was stripped of his Olympic title. The 100 meters final at the1988 Summer Olympics would go down in history as one of the most controversial events at the Olympics as many of the participants were found to have doped during the race. Ben Johnson, who immigrated to Canada from Jamaica as a 14-year-old established himself as a promising sprinter under the training of coach Charlie Francis, a sprint champion himself who was also Canada's national sprint coach for nine years. The young man tasted his first international success when he won two silver medals at the 1982 Commonwealth Games and proceeded to win the bronze medal in the 100 meters final at the 1984 Summer Olympics. His ambitions were set high for the 1988 Summer Olympics and he won the 100 meters final beating his American rival Carl Lewis, becoming an internationally-recognized track superstar. After just three days he fell to disgrace after it was revealed that he had doped during the big event.
Childhood & Early Life
Ben Johnson was born on December 30, 1961, at Falmouth, Trelawny Parish, Jamaica. He migrated to Canada as a 14-year-old in 1976.
Strong and athletic, the young boy joined the Scarborough Optimists track and field club and received his training from the prominent coach Charlie Francis who was a 100 meters sprint champion himself and a member of the Canadian team for the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich.
He focused on the 100 meters sprint and improved his time from 11 seconds in 1978 to 10.62 sec in 1980.
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Ben Johnson first came into international limelight in 1982 when he won two silver medals at the Commonwealth Games in Brisbane, Australia. He was also a member of the Canadian 4 × 100 meters relay team which finished behind Nigeria. The following year was not successful for him as he was eliminated in the semi-finals at the 1983 World Championships in Helsinki.
He was able to reach the 100 meters final at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles where he won the bronze medal behind Carl Lewis and Sam Graddy. As a part of the Canadian 4 × 100 meters relay team which also included Tony Sharpe, Desai Williams and Sterling Hinds, he shared a bronze medal. Johnson established himself as Canada's top sprinter by the end of the 1984 season.
He suffered a string of losses in 1985 before finally beating his American rival Carl Lewis. The following year was a better one and Johnson broke Houston McTear's seven-year-old world record in the 60 meters with a time of 6.50 seconds. He also won the gold in the 100 meters at the Commonwealth Games in 1986 in Edinburgh and won a bronze in the 200 meters.
By 1987, Ben Johnson had gained the reputation of being the best 100 meters sprinter in the world. At the World Championships in Rome that year, he set a new world record of 9.83 seconds, again defeating Lewis. With this timing, he effectively broke Calvin Smith's former record by a full tenth of a second. Following this victory he was fervently courted by advertisers and earned about $480,000 a month in endorsements.
The rivalry between Johnson and Lewis was escalating by the time of the 1988 Olympic Games. However, Johnson pulled a hamstring in February that year which became aggravated by May. While he suffered from physical setbacks, Lewis was performing well in his career.
On September 24, 1988, the most exciting event in the Summer Olympics—the final of the men’s 100 meters race—took place. The main focus was on Johnson and Lewis, and following a very exciting race Johnson clinched the gold with a world record time of 9.79 seconds. With this victory he became the first sprinter from Canada since Percy Williams in 1928 to win the 100 meters final at the Olympics. Following this win, Ben Johnson was catapulted to the status of an international sporting superstar.
Fall from Grace
Soon after his victory, the Olympic Doping Control Center found that Johnson's blood and urine samples contained stanozolol—a performance enhancing drug—and thus he was disqualified. He was stripped of his gold medal and world record.
His involvement in a doping scandal shook the sporting fraternity. Once a much-loved star, he was now a fallen hero who was suspended for two years.
He attempted a comeback in 1991 and participated in the Hamilton Indoor Games in which he finished second in the 50 meters in 5.77 seconds. However, he was once again found guilty of doping in 1993 and was banned for life.
Following his ban he turned to coaching and has also been featured on some advertisements.
Awards & Achievements
In 1985, Ben Johnson was given the Norton Crowe Award for Male Athlete of the Year.
He was the winner of the 1986 Lou Marsh Trophy as Canada's top athlete.
He was made a member of the Order of Canada in 1987. The same year he was also named the Associated Press Athlete of the Year.
Personal Life & Legacy
He shared a home with his mother for several years until her death in 2004 following which he lived with his sister. He also has a daughter and a granddaughter.
Ben Johnson has an estimated net worth of $2 million.