THE ERASING OF JOHNSON
This is an article from the Sept. 18, 1989 issue
At its congress last week in Barcelona, the International Amateur Athletic Federation (IAAF) passed a package of rules that, among other things, will strip sprinter Ben Johnson of his world records, including the 100 meters. After the International Olympic Committee took away Johnson's gold medal in the 100, which he won in a world-record time of 9.79, for having tested positive in Seoul for the steroid stanozolol, the previous mark of 9.83, which Johnson had set at the World Championships in 1987, remained the record.
This summer Johnson testified at a drug inquiry in Canada that he had been using performance-enhancing drugs since 1981. That testimony prompted the drug legislation adopted last week, which broadens the definition of a "doping offense" to include the admission of having used a banned substance and gives the IAAF the power to strip titles and times based on that admission. Thus, as of Jan. 1, 1990, Carl Lewis will hold the world record in the 100 with a time of 9.92, and Lee McRae the 60 mark with a time of 6.50.
The way in which the IAAF reached its decision revealed more about the power of Primo Nebiolo, the federation's president, than about the desire of the 129 nations represented in Barcelona to censure Johnson and other drug users. The vote took place at the end of a seemingly interminable five-hour morning session, during which Nebiolo, who is Italian, rambled on in heavily accented English that was difficult to understand. Finally, without any warning that he intended to ask the assembly to vote on the drug package, Nebiolo said simply, "May I propose we accept it as a united bloc? Don't eat too much. We have a lot to do in the afternoon."
There was applause. The word vote was never used. No hands were shown. No ballots were collected. But in those few moments Johnson's most outstanding achievements were erased from track and field's record books. "That was a disgrace to democracy," Cecil Smith, executive director of the Ontario Track and Field Association, told SI's Merrell Noden. "But how can anyone challenge [the decision]? One hundred and twenty-nine countries voted. They had a clapometer. Didn't you see it?" Only later that day did the IAAF's honorary treasurer, Robert Stinson, ask for a show of hands. The drug legislation passed, but between one and three dozen countries did not vote for the rules, thus denying Nebiolo the unanimous acclaim he seemed to be seeking.
The legislation itself lacks clarity; questions are many. What constitutes an admission of drug use? If one member of a relay team admits violating the drug rules and is asked to forfeit a medal, will the other members of the team be expected to do so as well? How long after an athlete has taken steroids is it fair to assume the drugs are assisting the athlete? Six months? A year? The hastily passed measures may haunt the IAAF in the future.
AN UPLIFTING EXPERIENCE
Spreading spiritual light and bliss around the world is no mean undertaking, so 58-year-old guru Sri Chinmoy conjured up a stunt equal to the task: celebrity pressing. Between June 1988 and August of this year, the round-bellied, 155-pound Chinmoy traveled to 17 countries, along the way hoisting such luminaries as comedian Eddie Murphy, 49er linebacker Keena Turner and Steingrímur Hermannsson, the prime minister of Iceland, over his bald head with one hand. O.K., so he didn't hoist them so much as budge the raised platform on which they were standing by a few inches. But the short ride truly transported some of the liftees. "It was exhilarating!" says Olympic gold medalist Carl Lewis. "Not like being lifted in the regular sense of the term."
"I tried to congratulate them with my prayerful meditation and inner oneness with them," says Chinmoy, a fitness advocate from Pondicherry, India. "I lifted them to show my deepest appreciation for their achievements." When Chinmoy hoisted his 1,300th liftee—Dr. Bruce Merrifield, a Nobel Prizewinner in chemistry—last month, he decided to call it quits. Why stop there? "He likes 13," says his publicist, Agraha Levine. "It's been a good number for him."
After the sixth race at Yonkers Raceway on the afternoon of Sept. 5, assistant track announcer George Anthony was startled to find three hook-and-ladder trucks on the track apron. Not until four fire fighters showed up in the booth did Anthony realize that it was he who had summoned the trucks. As A Bs Streaker was burning up the track en route to a seven-length win over seven other pacers, Anthony had screamed, "Call the fire department!" Someone did.
THE RIGHT TO KNOW
Among athletes who matriculated in the fall of 1982, the graduation rate for that class over a five-year period at 35 Division I basketball schools and 14 Division I-A football schools was, shockingly, less than 20%. These figures were released last week, not by the NCAA, which has no stipulations on the publication of graduation rates, but by the General Accounting Office, which is collecting information for a bill before Congress. That legislation, the Student-Athlete Right to Know Act, would require schools to release their graduation figures, broken down by sport, race and gender, so that high school seniors can make more informed choices when selecting colleges. Two of the sponsors of the bill are former basketball All-Americas, Senator Bill Bradley (D., N.J.) and Representative Tom McMillen (D., Md.).
The survey—which examines 97 Division I basketball programs and 103 Division I-A football programs—focuses on the NCAA's top two revenue-producing sports and is nonpartisan proof that many students have been educationally shortchanged: Overall, the graduation rate for basketball players was 38%; for football players, 45%. The NCAA points out that this study was done before the enactment of Bylaw 5-1-(j), and does not take into account athletes who may have transferred from their initial schools in good academic standing.
Some members of the NCAA are strongly opposed to the federal government getting involved in their affairs. They oppose what seems to be the only way to obtain the truth about academics in big-time sports and about how few so-called student-athletes actually fit that description.
NBA superstar Michael Jordan, 26, married Juanita Vanoy, 30, the mother of their 10-month-old son, Jeffrey, at 3:30 a.m. last Saturday at The Little White Wedding Chapel in Las Vegas. The bride wore jeans. The groom wore jeans, loafers and no socks. Vanoy had two bridesmaids; one was dressed in a skirt, the other in jeans. Jordan had two groomsmen, both of whom were attired in shorts. One wore gym shoes—Nikes, of course.
A SPORTSMAN DESPITE THE SPECTACLE
On Sept. 7, Tom Blackaller, one of the world's best-known sailboat racers, died of a heart attack at 49. Blackaller, who lived most of his life in the San Francisco Bay Area, won two world championships in the Star class and was a major figure on the international ocean racing scene for three decades. But it was as the high-spirited, outspoken helmsman of America's Cup boats—Clipper in 1980, Defender in '83 and USA in '87—that Blackaller became known to most sports fans. Senior writer Sarah Ballard, who has covered the Cup since '83, remembers him:
Blackaller mounted America's Cup campaigns for the usual reasons—he was fiercely competitive, and the Cup was sailing's biggest prize. He never even won the trials. His campaigns were always underfunded, and more than once his backers, panicking as the bills piled up, turned on him. More important, though, Blackaller was a misfit in the America's Cup spectacle. He was a sportsman, and he kept making the mistake of thinking the America's Cup was sport, when in fact it had become a nasty business.
Reporters liked Blackaller because he was the one America's Cup source they could count on to tell the truth. He might decline to answer a question, but he never lied or misled as others routinely did. Photographers liked him because he made them look good. That thick, silver mane, that square jaw—nobody could take a bad picture of Blackaller.
He was always an underdog in America's Cup competitions, but, lord, he never looked like one. He squeezed every drop of fun out of a campaign, laughing, bellowing, needling Dennis Conner, whom he respected for his sailing but otherwise detested. Once, in Newport, R.I., Blackaller climbed on top of a shed to shout insults across the docks toward Conner's boatyard. By the end of his Cup campaigns, Blackaller was exhausted and depressed. He swore off the Cup after 1983, but he came back in '87. Then he swore off big-time sailing altogether. "International ocean racing—that's teeth-clenching pressure," he told Kimball Livingston of the San Francisco Chronicle. "After so much of it, you've just had enough."
In recent years Blackaller raced fast cars and fast boats for fun. He was practicing for a car race at Sears Point in California last week when his heart stopped. Hard to believe. He always made you feel almost as glad to be alive as he was.
THEY SAID IT
•Tom Paciorek, Chicago White Sox broadcaster, when asked for his definition of boredom: "Having to listen to someone talk about himself when I want to talk about me."