The news last week that sprinter Ben Johnson had again tested positive for a banned substance—testosterone this time—was numbing and sad. So was what followed: The IAAF's doping commission voted to ban Johnson from the sport for life. Johnson, whose positive sample came from a Jan. 17 indoor meet in Montreal, said he won't appeal the suspension.
Since January 1991, when he returned from his two-year ban for having tested positive for steroids at the '88 Olympics in Seoul, Johnson had run no better than 10.16 seconds for 100 meters—a time that placed him 22nd on the world list for '92—and last summer he failed to make the 100 final at the Barcelona Games. Johnson, 31, who at his peak was virtually unbeatable and enjoyed six-figure paydays, had become an also-ran. That status changed, however, on the indoor circuit this winter. Last month in Grenoble, France, he ran 5.65 for 50 meters, only .04 off his own world record. Then came the results of the Montreal test.
Perhaps the best measure of how much drugs boosted Johnson's performance comes from Carl Lewis's coach, Tom Tellez. Two years ago Tellez noted that, while Lewis still had room to improve, he could never match the 9.79 Johnson ran in Seoul. If Lewis—the most gifted sprinter of our time—cannot run that fast, what chance do other runners have?
March 15, 1993
Track and field athletes often see themselves in an adversarial relationship with the spoil's drug-testing system. That must change. The athletes have to acknowledge that drug use leaves the next generation with a terrible choice: Either settle for a lower level of performance or use drugs to attain a higher one. That choice ruined Johnson.
America's best downhill racer, AJ Kitt, can't get a break this season. In Aspen last Saturday, International Ski Federation (FIS) safety officials pulled the winner's podium out from under him for the second time in three months by stopping a World Cup race only minutes after Kitt had blistered the Ruthie's Run course to lead the other 14 top-seeded skiers by a whopping .83 of a second.
The officials said they had halted the downhill because a dangerous rut had developed on the course. When FIS announced it would reset the course and start the race anew two hours later, Kitt and several other racers refused to compete, arguing that the dangerousness of that spot had been pointed out to officials many times during the week and that FIS had done nothing about it. Citing softening snow, FIS then canceled the race.
The snake-bitten Kitt, whose best finish this season is a third, was also denied victory at the World Cup downhill in Val d'Isère, France, on Dec. 4. There, with Kitt a near-certain winner after 23 racers had skied, the event was canceled because of high winds, fog and heavy snow, depriving him not only of a win but of $30,000 in prize money as well. "The Val d'Isère decision was legitimate," said Kitt in Aspen. "But here, we had almost a perfect day."
Kitt received some consolation in Aspen when the race organizers decided to award full cash prizes to the three "medalists" in spite of the cancellation. Kitt put his $30,000 first-place check to good use, announcing that he would sponsor 10 young racers with the Aspen Ski Club for a season and that he would buy 10 kegs of beer for "the hundreds and hundreds of people who worked for free" to make the Aspen races a success.
Mike Beaver, a 23-year-old hockey fan from Glen Ellyn, Ill., believes that any move to eliminate fighting from the NHL would be a step toward ruining the sport. Last October, Beaver went public with his dubious message by selling Beaver's Mixin' It Up, a newsletter devoted to "the physical aspect of the NHL."
Published every three weeks during the season, Mixin' It Up offers its 5,000 subscribers a power play of hockey-fight reportage, including editorials, stats and profiles of noted tough guys. A regular feature, "Statistical Leaders," tracks the top players in the league in such categories as penalty minutes, game misconducts and fighting majors. Beaver also offers lists of the "Best Fights of the Year So Far" and "Fights We'd Pay to See."
The backbone of every issue, though, is "...And in This Corner..."—a lovingly detailed compilation of "every on-ice battle that occurred" since the previous issue. The list gives the names of the combatants, their teams and other details, along with "the lowdown." a capsule critique of the action gleaned from videotape review. The Oct. 15 punch-up between Shayne Corson of the Edmonton Oilers and Bryan Marchment of the Chicago Blackhawks, for example, drew this rave: "Great fight; bloody slugfest, both men cut." On the other hand, the Jan. 16 set-to between Ottawa Senator Mark Freer and Pittsburgh Penguin Paul Stanton earned a derisive "Lightweight 'battle'; a few slaps to the face landed." Lest anyone accuse him of bloodthirstiness, Beaver insists that "blood is not a requirement, though sometimes it's a plus."
Hockey, Beaver wrote in a recent issue, is "the greatest sport on the face of the earth." And fighting, he says, is "part of the game." So are skating, shooting, passing and goaltending, though you wouldn't know it by reading Mixin' It Up.
When the Jonesport-Beals High Royals and the Hyde School Phoenix met in Maine's Class D state-championship basketball game on Feb. 25 in Bangor, what should have been an exciting evening of sports turned into an ugly display of provincialism. Jonesport-Beals, the 1993 Eastern Maine champion and an eight-time state titlist, is a true Down East school—Jonesport is a coastal town, and Beals is an island. By contrast, Hyde School, the '93 Western champion, is a prep school in Bath, most of whose students are from out of state. Hyde last won the state crown in 1981, when it was led by a center named Tom Bragg, who has just completed his second year as coach of the Phoenix.
Bragg, who grew up in Washington, D.C., and attended Hyde on a scholarship, remembers the chilly reception his team received while playing its way to the title 12 years ago. Hyde players were greeted with the call, "Maine championships for Maine kids." Says Bragg, "There'd be hostility, but our school deals with character development. We talked about it, and just went out and played."
Not enough has changed since '81. At this year's championship game, the "Maine kids" got all the breaks. In a game marked by what many observers characterized as biased officiating against Hyde, Jonesport-Beals went to the foul line 46 times; Hyde went 12 times. That made the difference. Though Hyde had 26 held goals to 21 for Jonesport-Beals, the Royals won 74-59. "The dispute here isn't so much the fouls called against Hyde (although some were dubious at best)," wrote Dave Bourque in the Brunswick Times Record, "but the fouls not called against Jonesport-Beals."
Bourque praised the patience of Bragg and concluded by citing the Hyde School motto: COURAGE, INTEGRITY, CONCERN FOR OTHERS, CURIOSITY AND LEADERSHIP. "Hyde School showed, above all, courage and integrity," wrote Bourque.
Here's hoping that this time its example wasn't for naught.
After last spring's riots ravaged Los Angeles, organizers of the L.A. Marathon feared that their event—which, since its inaugural running in 1986, had been as much a city-wide street party as an athletic event—was in jeopardy. "We wondered if there would be a marathon in 1993," race director William Burke said. The concern was that runners who had seen reports of the troubles in L.A. would be scared away from a marathon that passed through many parts of the inner city.
To their credit the organizers chose not to run from the problem. They stuck with the usual course, which starts and finishes at the L.A. Coliseum—in an area hit hard by the rioting—and they launched an advertising campaign that acknowledged the riots and stressed the race's healing properties. A four-page insert, headed TOGETHER WE WIN, appeared in Runner's World and Running Times magazines, assuring runners that they would be safe, and outlining the efforts of Rebuild L.A., an organization dedicated to increasing economic involvement in the city. The race helped raise funds for 52 charities, including several inner-city groups.
In the end, a field of more than 19,000 runners started Sunday's race, which was won by Joseildo Rocha of Brazil; 15,000 volunteers manned the course; and one million spectators turned out to cheer. Such numbers suggest that a sporting event need not tout itself as being a break from the real world. Often it's an important part of it.
Guys in Kilts
At least five boys played on girls' high school field-hockey teams in the Northeast last season, causing some traditionalists to fret that the sport may soon be taken over by males. When center halfback Niles Draper (left) skirted up for Chatham (Mass.) High, four other schools invoked a Massachusetts Inter-scholastic Athletic Association rule allowing a team to cancel games against a mixed squad without incurring a loss. There was also talk of bringing lawsuits to ban boys from girls' teams.
We have a better idea: Why not start boys' field-hockey teams? Maybe then the U.S. men would fare better in the Olympics. Field hockey is an Olympic sport for both men and women, but the U.S. hasn't qualified a men's team for the Games since 1956.
Last week Muddy, the Toledo Mud Hen mascot, signed a shoe contract with Converse. While the Hen's deal—free sneakers for the 1993 season—is chicken feed compared with what star athletes receive, Muddy is thrilled. "I'm so happy I could lay an egg," he said.
They Wrote It
•Mike Downey, in the Los Angeles Times: "Hillary Rodham Clinton [below] is going to throw out the first ball at Wrigley Field this season.... Knowing the Cubs, she'll probably hurt her arm."
They Said It
•Jerry Reynolds, Sacramento Kings G.M., on his appearance as a television analyst: "I'm not all that encouraged. I told my wife, 'I looked like a fat little hillbilly.' She said, 'That's because you are, dear.' "