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Monday, 24 December 2012

#59: Olympic Fever III: I Know You Got Seoul

Aside from being a Games featuring two of my Inside the Runner’s Mind podcast alumni – Nancy Tinari and Carey Nelson – the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea is most remembered for one man's remarkable fall from grace: Ben Johnson.

In the Olympics – which features a multitude of different sports and disciplines – the only two we really care about are track & field and swimming (the latter which fills a gap/serves a purpose until T&F arrives). Plus maybe a bit of rowing and cycling. And the flagship event in the flagship T&F is the men’s 100m.

The Olympic final in Seoul was billed as a showdown between the reigning Olympic champion Carl Lewis and the reigning World Champion, Johnson. Britain’s Linford Christie was also favourite to win the ‘lunchbox’ division – awarded to the guy who 'peaks' best in spandex. If you know what I mean.

Excitement for the race built around the globe – and the watching millions weren’t disappointed.

In only the second Olympic Games to be held in Asia, following Tokyo in 1964, Canadian sprinter Johnson shot out of the blocks so fast the TV cameras had a job keeping up with him.

Briton Christie, a notoriously slow starter, was still peeling off his warm-up pants and listening to Bob Marley's "We're Jammin'" when Johnson hit the 60m mark.

American legend Lewis – who'd emulated Jessie Owens with four golds in LA – managed to get within a bus length of Johnson by the time the latter smashed through the finishing 'tape' in a new world record.

Christie was still taking his pants off (it took a while to navigate them round his famous ‘lunchbox’), but eventually got started and made a late charge to grab bronze.

Essentially, though, the race was a complete mis-match. Johnson had blown the field away. What a performance! Either he'd just realized he'd forgotten his wife's birthday as the gun fired, or it was the race of his life.

Or was it? Was it too good to be true?

Well, of course, the answers to those questions are no and yes.

Within days, Johnson...

To read the rest of this column, check out BC Johnny's upcoming book: Chilled Almonds.  

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