No sooner was Ben Johnson of Canada stripped of his gold medal in the 100 meters than at least three teams from the Canadian Football League and one from the NFL proclaimed their interest in him as a wide receiver. The Hamilton Tiger-Cats called CFL headquarters on Sept. 27, the day after Johnson's disqualification for testing positive for anabolic steroids, requesting the right to negotiate with him. The Dallas Cowboys, meanwhile, expressed their desire to have a conversation with Johnson as well.
Over the years, Dallas, which once drafted Carl Lewis, has prospered from the talents of such former track stars as Bob Hayes and Mel Renfro. But speed is no guarantee of success in professional football—remember such notable busts as Frank Budd and John Carlos. Johnson, who is 5'11" and listed in the Canadian team guide as only 166 pounds, has never played organized football.
What's troubling about the wooing of Johnson is that none of the teams vying for his services seems concerned about his steroid use. Mike McCarthy, Hamilton's assistant general manager, was even quoted as saying, "I don't worry about it, because there's steroid use in the CFL. We've never tested for it, but it's out there. You know it's there." The NFL is now testing for steroids, but as yet the league has not developed any disciplinary or rehabilitative procedures for those players who are caught.
October 9, 1988
While Johnson should not be denied the right to employment outside track, the professional teams are doing him a great disservice by approaching him so soon after his disgrace in Seoul. Let him at least get his life in order and cleanse his system of the dangerous steroids he was apparently persuaded to take.
Ironically, Johnson looks good to football teams precisely because he took steroids. In SI's special report on the Johnson scandal last week, one source close to a member of Johnson's entourage said, "They actually bragged about it, how Ben was a skinny little kid before he got into steroids." Pro football just isn't interested in skinny little kids.
THE MAT LADY
In 1972, Sheila Wager got bored with watching her wrestling sons, Marc and Lance, and her husband, Jerry, a wrestling referee, roughhouse on the living room floor. So to get more involved, she decided to become a referee, too. In time, she rose higher in the wrestling ranks than any of the men in her family, becoming the only woman to attain the exceptionnelle category required of referees in the Olympic Games. For two weeks in Seoul, she officiated both freestyle and Greco-Roman matches.
Wager, a legal secretary from Las Vegas who stands 5'1½" and is in the 136.5-pound class, refuses to divulge her age. Instead she says, "Wrestling keeps you young." She claims that she has never had a problem on the mats because of her gender. "I did get some strange looks from wrestlers when I first started out," Wager says.
Some people worried that Wager might have to work a match involving a wrestler from Iran; the Iranians had refused to march behind a female sign-carrier in the opening ceremonies. This difficulty never arose, but Wager had an easy solution in mind, lest an Iranian refuse to wrestle because of her. "I simply would've raised the arm of the other competitor," she said. "On the mats, I'm not a woman. I'm an official."
THE LANGUAGE OF LOVE
SI's Frank Deford made these observations while covering the tennis competition (page 116) in Olympic Park:
Many Koreans were seeing tennis for the first time. They liked lobs best, the higher the better. They also tittered almost uncontrollably when Brad Gilbert, the American bronze medalist, talked to himself between points. The Koreans had been carefully schooled in the unique ways of tennis spectating. They even had been given a seven-point instruction sheet on how to behave themselves, and an English translation was included. Point No. 3 read as follows:
"In case expuisit skill is exhibited during the game, just great your response via clapping of hands."
WISH UPON A STAR
On a day when Daley Thompson of Great Britain snapped his pole while attempting a vault, injured his left leg and finished a disappointing fourth in the decathlon, NBC reporter Dave Sims came up to him and said, "Tough day out there today." To which Thompson replied, "Not really. I'm going to Disney World."
A CANADIAN HERO
About 20 minutes after Ben Johnson won the 100 meters, another Canadian Olympian, sailor Larry Lemieux, became a more enduring hero.
Midway through a Finn-class race off Pusan, Lemieux came across the capsized boat of skipper Shaw Her Siew of Singapore and his crewman, Joe Chan, who had been racing in the 470 class. At the time, Lemieux was in second place in his race. Siew was safe, sitting on the hull of his overturned boat, but Chan was struggling in the water about 50 yards away. And because of powerful currents, Chan was drifting away. "We pass capsized boats all the time," Lemieux said, "and usually you look over and everyone's O.K. I'm just glad that the one time someone wasn't O.K., I stopped."
Lemieux, 32, can't swim, but he turned his boat around to rescue Chan. After dropping him off on a crash boat, Lemieux was unable to make up the 15 minutes he'd lost during his lifesaving detour and finished 21st. "I know it may sound corny," said Lemieux, who was competing in his second Olympic games, "but this was just something you do."
That evening a jury met to decide what place Lemieux should be awarded. While waiting to testify, both Chan and Lemieux fell asleep on a couch outside the hearing room. After both men were awakened, they told their stories, and the jury decide to put Lemieux second in the race, the fifth of seven in the Finn class. With that placement, Lemieux finished 11th overall.
The International Olympic Committee gave Lemieux a special award, a porcelain box. As exiled King Constantine of Greece, an honorary member of the IOC and a former Olympic yachting champion, told him, "You truly represent the Olympic ideal."
There's something wrong with rhythmic gymnastics besides the impression some people have that the sport would have fit in better on the old Ed Sullivan Show than it does in the Summer Games. Although this was only the second Games for rhythmic gymnastics, and many countries have yet to form an Olympic team, the pinnacle of achievement has already been reached, repeatedly. In winning the gold medal, Marina Lobatch of the Soviet Union was awarded perfect 10's in four preliminary and four final exercises. The next three finishers were all given 10's in each of their final events as well. How can a sport be considered truly competitive when it's already perfect?
EIGHT MEN OUT
Archery is known as the "quiet sport." How quiet? Well, there were 24 journalists at a quarterfinal competition on Thursday. Eight were sound asleep.
Just one manifestation of the People's Republic of China's disappointment over its performance in Seoul was the riots that reportedly broke out after the highly regarded Chinese women's volleyball team was humiliated in the semifinals by the Soviet Union. A shake-up in the Chinese sports ministry is expected.
In 1984 the Chinese took 15 gold, eight silver and nine bronze medals away from Los Angeles, so expectations were high for this year. In Seoul, they won five golds, 11 silvers and 12 bronzes. China, with more than a billion people, finished far behind South Korea, with 42 million, in the race for Olympic supremacy among Asian nations (Korea won 12 golds, 10 silvers and 11 bronzes). Says Yi Gaochao of the official Xinhua News Agency, "The salaries have risen so much that the defeat of our topflight athletes creates great resentment among the people." Yi also says that the Chinese resent the pampered treatment received by Olympic athletes in Seoul. Weight-lifter He Yingqiang, for instance, had his own chef and a special bike to help him save his strength as he traveled to and from his meals. Consequently, the Chinese were not pleased when He got only a silver medal in the 123-pound class. After China won the men's doubles in table tennis, Li Furong, secretary general of the Chinese sports delegation told S.I.'s Jaime FlorCruz with a sigh, "It's been a while since I have heard our national anthem."
Cooler heads in Beijing are calling on the public to ease off. The People's Daily wrote: "The pressure of the hopes and disappointments of one billion people, if not kept in the right perspective, can lead to athletes not daring to face the prospect of defeat. The fact that gold medals change hands in fact indicates the rising standards of the human race. And the defeat of a champion does not reflect a country's overall progress or failures."
THEY SAID IT
•Mike Swain, a member of the U.S. judo team, on being awarded a bronze medal after Kerrith Brown of Great Britain was disqualified for testing positive for a banned diuretic: "I didn't want to win it this way, but I can always lie to my grandchildren."