BEN JOHNSON may have set two speed records at the 1988 Seoul Olympics. A sculpted Jamaican-born Canadian, Johnson beat his rival Carl Lewis in the 100 meters, turning in a record time of 9.79 seconds. Glory, of course, was short-lived, as a postrace test revealed he'd used the steroid stanozolol. While today an accused athlete goes through an inevitable choreography of denials, tribunals, hearings and appeals, in Johnson's case the verdict was breathtakingly swift. Within days he was disqualified, stripped of his gold and sent home from Seoul shrouded in disgrace. BUSTED! proclaimed SI's cover that week.
The introverted Johnson was almost singularly ill-equipped to handle the fallout. At first he denied doping but later acknowledged that he'd used steroids. He still insists, however, that he never took stanozolol and that in Seoul something he drank was spiked. (Johnson says the steroid he'd been taking was furazabol, and that he quit using it long enough before the Games that he should never have tested positive.) After serving a two-year suspension, Johnson attempted a comeback, but following a '93 race in Montreal he was found to have an elevated level of testosterone and was permanently banned by track's international federation.
Living in Toronto, Johnson, 46, keeps a relatively low profile these days, his income derived mostly from training athletes. Clients have included the soccer-playing son of Libyan leader Mu'ammar Gadhafi, who himself was banned from Italian soccer for three months after a positive steroid test. Johnson has a fitness-clothing line and, trading on his sullied past, he endorsed an energy drink, Cheetah Power Surge. ("I Cheetah all the time.") He was said to be in talks to provide commentary for Chinese television at the Beijing Olympics. Still, Johnson remains an enigma. When SI recently requested an interview with him, his agent, Morris Chrobotek, inquired about a fee. Told this was impossible, Chrobotek chuckled and responded, "Can you at least buy him an ice cream?"