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Ben Johnson new face of anti-doping campaign

Updated: Monday, 02 Sep 2013 11:49 | Comments

Ben Johnson (l) raises his arm as he finishes first in the 100m at the 1988 Olympics The Canadian failed a routine drug test and would be stripped of his gold medal
Ben Johnson (l) raises his arm as he finishes first in the 100m at the 1988 Olympics The Canadian failed a routine drug test and would be stripped of his gold medal

Ben Johnson, the most infamous drugs cheat of the 20th century, is the unlikely face of a new anti-doping campaign and has warned that athletics needs help.

Back on 24 September, 1988, the sporting world was shocked to the core by news the Canadian had failed a routine drug test and would be stripped of his 100 metres gold medal at the Seoul Olympics.

Johnson will never be able to escape what remains one of the biggest scandals in Olympic history but is hoping to be able to right some wrongs.

With the 25th anniversary approaching, the sprinter has kicked off a world tour with sportswear company SKINS as part of an anti-doping initiative culminating in South Korea.

Johnson is not receiving any payment to lead the #ChooseTheRightTrack campaign, which aims to radically improve a system that athletes are still breaching today.

"Winning a gold medal and being the best in the world it cost me my reputation, my life," Johnson said. "I'm here to try and change that.

"I'm trying to clear the air and clear my part of life, trying to help future generations and future athletes, athletes of my calibre, who have tested positive, been in the same boat as me, trying to help them and say you're not alone.

"If I can help change the mind of athletes in generations to come, that's what we are here for."

"I'm trying to clear the air and clear my part of life, trying to help future generations and future athletes"

When Johnson used to watch sport as a kid, he thought everybody was clean - an illusion shattered by his coach in the early 1980s.

Told his rivals were doping, after weeks of deliberation the temptation of glory proved too much for him.

"I didn't tell my mother about it, or anybody else," the Jamaican-born sprinter said. "Just keep it a secret.

"I came back to the track and I say 'yeah, I will try it'. And ever since things change, my life."

Johnson spoke of a world in which drug use was rife, with one particularly shocking story of the 1983 Pan American Games, when numerous athletes bailed as they were afraid of testing positive.

Earlier this month, athletics' world governing body, the IAAF, tightened its restrictions on drug cheats, announcing plans to hand four-year bans from 2015.

The #ChooseTheRightTrack campaign is calling for more, though.

It wants a truly independent and suitably-funded World Anti-Doping Agency under which an athlete support council should be set up.

It also wants a comprehensive truth and reconciliation process, although that will require gaining the athletes' trust.

As much of a concern right now is regaining the confidence of fans.

Usain Bolt was seen as a beacon of hope at the recent World Championships in Moscow, but if he was to fail a test would the bottom fall out of the sport?

"You might have a point," Johnson said. "Things in the sport would change dramatically, but still you are going to have good and bad people in this world.

"The bad people will just say 'we believe in him and he's doing this and doing that' and the good people will say 'well this is entertainment'.

"Nobody wants to see a guy run 10.6 or 10.7 in the 100m, they want to see fast times.

"How are we going to get to the root of this problem? We're going to fix it. How are we going to fix it?

"The athletes have to come forward and it's a trust that they're not going to be chased all over the world or have two houses where the drugs go there and they live there.

"Because that's what has been going on for a very, very long time, so if the testing is accurate and you get the right testing procedures then I think athletes will be getting scared now.

"Because now we have certain athletes who are testing positive and there are certain guys who, up until this day, still hurt because they don't want to test positive. They are not running in the world championships."

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