The Dirtiest Race in History, by Richard Moore
Richard Moore photo
The sad news that Richard Moore has passed away. Stuart Weir sent us this piece on the fine book and the fine writer, who left us way too early. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends.
Death of Richard Moore
The sad news of the death of Richard Moore, a British sports journalist, has been announced. He was a cycling journalist, author, and podcaster who was well known within the British cycling world. The 49-year-old from Scotland was best known for founding his popular podcast The Cycling Podcast. He used to be a racing cyclist who represented Great Britain at the Tour of Langkawi and Scotland at the PruTour and 1998 Commonwealth Games.
He wrote an excellent book* on the 1988 Olympic Games 100 meters race, focusing mainly on the two main characters Ben Johnson who co-operated fully – and Carl Lewis, who was more elusive. In addition, there was a lot of information from the two coaches, Charlie Francis and Joe Douglas.
There is also a mine of useful information on the drug culture of the time – how the USOC suppressed positive tests (including Carl Lewis) in the run-up to 1984, Los Angeles, Games and how positive tests in the 1984 games did not see the light of day.
Lewis’s coach, Joe Douglas, tells what he said to Primo Nebiolo, then president of the IAAF, “You gotta stop the cover-ups.” Nebiolo replied, “Joe, positive drugs tests will hurt the sport.” So drug use was swept under the carpet. Also concern is expressed that positive results would reduce the games’ profitability!!
The following extract from the report of the Dublin Inquiry [Royal Commission to Inquire into the Use of Drugs and Banned Practices Intended to Increase Athletic Performance in 1988], gives a helpful insight into the prevailing climate: “The failure of many sports governing bodies to treat the drug problem more seriously and to take more effective means to detect and deter the use of drugs like anabolic steroids has contributed in large measure to the extensive use of drugs by athletes. Added to the laxity of enforcement has been a laxity of investigation”.
Dublin added: “We cannot allow sport, which we expect to build character, to become a means of destroying it.”
He revealed that the 1988 Olympic 100 final race was not about one drug cheat, Ben Johnson. In fact, six of the eight finalists failed a test at some point in their career. On the two who did not, Calvin Smith, told the author, poignantly: “I feel I should’ve been the gold medallist. That’s what I feel”.
The portrayal of Lewis is interesting. There is an incident where he lies about an exam. There is the covered-up positive test. Moore sums it up: “As Lewis set out to win his four gold medals in Los Angeles, he seemed on the verge of becoming the Great American Hero. He failed. It is hard to understand why. He does everything right, shakes hands with everybody before a race, professes born-again Christianity, does laps of honor with the Stars and Stripes – but he is still hated”.
Johnson is open about his drug-taking. His dilemma is expressed: “He could either set up his starting blocks on the same line as his international competition, or he could start a meter behind”. In the 1988 Olympics, he was on a steroid program, carefully managing the timescale so that the drugs would clear his body before the test at the Games. Johnson had been tested 19 times between 1986 and the 1988 Olympics, passing everyone. Because of that, Johnson is convinced that his post-race drink was spiked and that Lewis’s camp was implicated.
Is Ben Johnson repentant? Asked if he could say anything to Carl Lewis now, what would it be? He replied, “I would say to him, , We were all running for the same title. I beat you fair and square. And you only beat me in the doping room.'”
Overall a gripping read, which digs deep into the circumstances of one of the most famous races of all time and also unearths much information on the contemporary attitudes to drug-taking in sport.
*Richard Moore, London, Bloomsbury, 2012. ISBN 9781408135952