I saw Willow Creek at the Vancouver International Film Festival just for the heck of it. What I got was something familiar but just as thrilling and had its own uniqueness.
The film appears to be videos of a couple, Jim and Kelly, as they are about to search for the mystery of Bigfoot. The legend of bigfoot started in Willow Creek, California one 1967 day when two men names Roger Patterson and Robert Gimlin claimed they sawe him and even provided a picture. The stories have kept on popping as the years went by.
Jim and Kelly head to Willow Creek to camp out in the Rockies and get their own piece of the action. Jim especially is a huge bigfoot enthusiast. Kelly doesn’t seem too into it but is cooperative with Jim nonetheless. They come to the town that’s full of Bigfoot landmark and businesses named Bigfoot. They even go to a Bigfoot diner where they have a Bigfoot burger with the buns shaped like a big foot. They interview residents, visit a Bigfoot museum and even have fun with the Bigfoot statues. They even show a singer who wrote the song Bob and Roger about the legendary discovery. It’s not to say that all has been fun before their camp-out. They did see one person who didn’t like how they were having a mock interview with a Bigfoot statue. They also met another man with an aggressively rude attitude while driving their Humvee down the valley.
That doesn’t stop them from finding another path to set up camp. They set up and then leave temporarily. Once they return they find their tent down and their stuff thrown about. Jim even finds his sock up in a tree. That doesn’t stop them from setting up again. They even sleep in the valley overnight leaving the camera running in hopes of getting a piece of the Bigfoot action. The night is a special bonus for Jim as it’s his chance to finally propose to Kelly. Kelly gives an unexpected answer but Jim’s cool with it.
Overnight they hear a lot of noises. First sounds like banging of rocks. Then sounds like loud growling. Then comes forceful actions outside their tent like their tent body being pushed. Jim and Kelly decide to leave the following morning. As they go to return to their car, Jim still tries to capture some stuff related to Bigfoot like hair from a tree or footprints near the creek. The fun ends when the two learn they’re lost without a map. The two are left stranded in the night where the unexpected happen.
Some of you may say this film sounds very familiar to The Blair Witch Project or Paranormal Activity. That’s definitely what I thought. It may be another spin off that formula but it does have elements of its own. First is of a mysterious phenomenon that’s already hugely popular and the place that made it popular. For those that don’t know, the town of Willow Creek, California is dubbed the Bigfoot Capital Of The World. They not only have all these Bigfoot places as shown in the film but also a Bigfoot festival. Back to the subject of the film, I’m sure one could see themselves doing such a film with other phenomenon like say going to Roswell for the alien phenomenon or Kelowna, BC for the Ogopogo.
Even separate from the subject of the search for Bigfoot was the story is also about the couple too. Blair Witch was of a group of friends together. Paranormal Activity had a couple but there wasn’t much focus on the relationship of the two. Willow Creek had a lot of focus on the relationship of Jim and Kelly first during their moments of fun together then on moments of great fear. Alexie Gilmore and Bryce Johnson gave a great performance as the couple. They made it work with their believable performance.
Bobcat Goldthwait also did a good job of directing and writing the story. Many of you may remember Goldthwait from the 80’s and 90’s with his comedic acting and his stand-up comedy where he had this irritatingly growling voice which people really liked. Filmmaking is something you would not normally associate with Goldthwait but he does make films of his own. This was a good film put together as it had a lot of people in suspense. Also he was at the showing for both the intro and the Q & A. Shows he still has it in terms of stand-up.
Willow Creek may remind you of certain other movies of the past but it’s a good story of its own and is worth watching. However I don’t think it may want you to check out the Bigfoot mystery anytime soon.
One of the biggest attractions at this year’s Vancouver Film Festival is the French film Blue Is The Warmest Color. The win at the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film festival will make it an attraction, no doubt. There are some that already know what it’s about and others that don’t. The question is will the crowds be satisfied?
The story starts with Adèle, a young high school student from Paris nearing adulthood and trying to decide what she wants to do with her life especially in times when Europe is going through economic troubles. She’s very involved with her job at day care, but lost in thought during school and unhappy in her relationship with Thomas. She soon leans of her lesbian attractions and starts trying to get as better understanding of it. She even breaks up with Thomas in the process.
Her gay friends from high school introduce her to Paris’ gay scene. She’s exposed to gay culture at one gay bar then visits a lesbian bar for the first time where she meet a tomboy woman with blue hair named Emma. Emma not only introduces Adèle to the lesbian scene but also to her work as an artist. Adèle’s high school friends are surprised with her relationship with Emma but over time the relationship goes from being simply Adèle being the subject of Emma’s art to a full intimate relationship. They share everything. Both are also good with each other’s parents. Both are also supportive as Emma helps with Adèle’s 18th birthday and Adèle cooks for Emma’s art party.
Things mark a turning point at Emma’s art party as Adèle senses something between Emma and Lise, her artistic colleague. Adèle also senses the advances of her boss from the daycare she works at. Eventually she does engage with her boss only for Emma to find out. Emma breaks up with Adèle in a rage leaving Adele frustrated and heartbroken. Months pass and Adèle is now a first grade schoolteacher. Emma is soon to have her first art exhibit opening. They meet again in a café to try and resolve what they can only for Adèle to learn a hard new truth. Adèle goes to the exhibit opening only to leave heartbroken but older and wiser.
The surprising thing about this is how this film tries to portray a relationship between two young girls. Its biggest quality was its truthfulness. It showed a girl-meets-girl scenario that’s often the common way two meet. It shows the relationship and how the two share so much with each other that almost mirrors other relationships. It also shows the friction in relationships with being attracted to another person, infidelity, break-up and aftermath that you will notice in other relationships. I believe that’s the biggest thing about this film. This is not a film that aims for heavy intense dramatic story but rather a film of a lesbian relationship between two young girls that mirrors most relationships people have or have had, possibly even one of your own.
It’s not only about the relationship in the film but also as much about the two main characters too. Adèle is turning 18 and in the midst of deciding what she wants to do with the rest of her life, eventually setting on teaching elementary school. Emma is an older art student and she’s disinterested in conforming to the expectations of the world nor to the art business. Adèle has just recently learned of her same-sex attraction. She slowly tries to learn about it and welcomes it when Emma comes into her life, but questions if she still has attractions and feeling to men. Emma on the other hand knew of her lesbian attraction at 14 and became very comfortable with it. The personality traits of both adds to the story of the relationship as it shows that opposites can attract. It also shows how the two personalities cause friction as Adèle has the common immaturities with an 18 year-old and Emma is a free person but with a fierce attitude.
One of the things of the movie is that it also brings up certain forms of thought. It should not be surprising because Adèle is a student just learning and it’s the student years where one tries to expand their mind. Emma makes mention of Sartre and him creating a intellectual revolution in saying we are ‘condemned to be free.’ Another time we’re in one of Adèle’s science classes seeing a lesson in gravity and one student talks of unavoidable vices and how the Catholic Church tells us that vices should be avoided. There’s also the division of the arts world and the business world that’s also present in the film. Adèle embraces the arts greatly in her own way but wants a career that’s stable especially since the future of the young of France looks uncertain and chooses teaching. Emma on the other hand wants to do what she wants to do and paint what she wants to paint and resists offers to ‘market’ her talent. That pressure of the dilemma of doing what one is born to do vs. doing what pays the rent is a common pressure in the minds of a lot of young people during those years. I remember it was even a pressure for me when I was a college student.
Without a doubt, the biggest thing that got me thinking were the graphic lesbian sex scenes. I know that sex scenes are choreographed but I was still surprised in seeing it’s explicitness. Even though I learned just now that fake genitalia were used, there’s no question that there will be many who will label it ‘pornography.’ In fact the producers refused to edit the film for release in the US and that got it an NC-17 rating.
In all frankness, I did find this a very revealing and intimate look at a lesbian couple but nevertheless I found this film to be too long. I believe if a film is going to be 3 hours long, it should justify its purpose. I really question whether 179 minutes is really necessary for that film because it didn’t appear to justify its length of time. I’m sure the film could’ve done as good a job of telling the story of the relationship if it was even two hours. There are even times when I question if that heavy-duty sexual activity, especially the impulsive activity in the café near the end, really added to the story or was included for shock value. That’s the problem with over-the-top sex scenes in movies: it may be intended for the story but could be taken the wrong way with the public. In fact there were times my ‘inner teenager’ felt like saying: “Owww! Get down!”
The best quality was the acting. Adèle Exarchopoulos did a very good job not just of portraying a young lesbian but also of a young teenage girl on the verge of womanhood. Her mix of a character who’s on the verge of adulthood trying to be more responsible but also dealing with her own immaturities, both behavioral and sexual, made Adèle very believable as a young woman. Lea Seydoux did a great job of playing Emma, the older freer one who’s in control. For those who didn’t notice, Lea is the one who won Owen Wilson’s heart in Midnight In Paris. It’s surprising how she’s completely unrecognizable here. She did a very good job of character transformation. Director/writer Abdelatif Kechiche was really daring in his subject matter and his adaptation of the story. I checked his Wikipedia profile and there’s no mention of himself being gay. Nevertheless He did an excellent job of taking the relationship and making it look so relatable.
The question will remain will Blue Is The Warmest Color go well with the movie-going public? Marketing gay-themes movies to the general public is not an easy task especially with the predominantly heterosexual crowd. Yes there have been films of gay characters and gay relationships that have scored well like Philadelphia, The Hours, Brokeback Mountain and Milk, but it’s still a chancy thing that’s still hit-and-miss with no proven consistent results. Even this being a French-language film may cause some difficulties. I even question if a film like this will score well with the LGBT populations in North America. We should also take in mind that living as a gay man or lesbian in Europe is a lot different that living as a gay man or lesbian in North America. Two different continents with two different social attitudes. Something I question.
Blue Is The Warmest Color is a unique film in its portrayal of a lesbian couple. It has a lot of good qualities that make it worth watching for some but not for others. It all boils down to the individual audient and their tastes and tolerances to decide if this is the right film for them or not.
“Sooner or later your ability to succeed on natural talent runs out when you run against a chemical barrier. The question became do you take drugs to try to win or do you content yourself with losing forever by staying away from them?”
– Charlie Francis
“I think about it for about three weeks before I say yes. Why should I train hard doing it clean and then these other guys are not clean? Face fear…I was young, in the business and (Jamie Astaphan) was a doctor and he said ‘If you don’t take it, you won’t make it.'”
– Ben Johnson
Back on Tuesday, I posted my memories and thoughts of the big run, the events leading up to it and the aftermath. It made sense since it was the 25th anniversary of that controversial run. Today is another 25th anniversary: the anniversary of the bad news hitting the fan. Here I will reflect on what I’ve learned from watching 9.79* and all that I’ve noticed in doping in the years since.
I know I talked a lot about the ESPN 30 For 30 Film 9.79* in my last article. For those who haven’t seen it, 9.79* is a very informative documentary about the Ben Johnson scandal that not only tells about the process of how Ben got into taking steroids but also about the changing world of track and field at the time as well as the widespread doping amongst those in the track world at the time too. It not only interviews Ben Johnson and Carl Lewis but all eight runners that participated in what’s commonly called ‘the dirtiest race in Olympic history:’
- Lane 1: Robson da Silva – Brazil
- Lane 2: Raymond Stewart – Jamaica
- Lane 3: Carl Lewis – USA
- Lane 4: Linford Christie – Great Britain
- Lane 5: Calvin Smith – USA
- Lane 6: Ben Johnson – Canada
- Lane 7: Desai Williams – Canada
- Lane 8: Dennis Mitchell – USA
It also interviews the coaches of Carl Lewis, Calvin Smith and even the coach of the US Olympic track team of 1988. Calvin Smith is of special focus too as he was the 100m dash World Record holder until Ben broke it at the 1987 Worlds. It also interviews two of Ben’s former teammates from the Scarborough Optimist Track Club: Angella Issajenko and Desai Williams who had stories of their own of what they saw around them and what they themselves did. It also interviews those associated with the USOC Doping programs like Dr. Robert Voy and Dr. Don Catlin from the UCLA lab during the 1984 Summer Olympics. Members of Canada’s Olympic Committee, Robert Armstrong from the Dubin Inquiry and a doping historian are also interviewed as well as Mary Ormsby: a Toronto Star journalist. Mary’s analysis of Ben Johnson and those associated with him as well as Canadian attitudes and even celebrations of Ben during those times really summed it up well and really struck me.
There are many key people who were not present in the film like Ben’s mother, Dr. Jamie Astaphan, human growth hormone Dr. Robert Kerr, Charles Dubin, Alexandre De Merode and Charlie Francis because they’re all now deceased. There is however one film footage of interview of Charlie from 2000. Also Andre Jackson, whose significance I will talk about later, is not interviewed either.
BEFORE IT ALL STARTED
Long before the whole Ben Johnson scandal, I knew about doping in sports. I first took an interest in the Olympic Games back in 1984 in the months leading up to the Los Angeles Olympics. I was a kid back then and with each preview show and each book I read, my curiosity grew and grew and I continued to learn more about the Games. Even seeing shows about Olympians past like The Olympiad widened my knowledge and excitement. However there was one Olympic preview show that focused on the subject of doping and anabolic steroids. They even made mention of athletes from the Pan American Games the year before that tested positive including two Canadian weightlifters.
Later on I’d learn just slightly more about doping. Actually I learned about an Olympic fatality from 1960. It was Danish cyclist Knud Enemark Jensen in the team road race. Two other members of the Danish team also dropped out of the race. The coach later admitted to giving his riders Roniacol. Amphetamines were also found in his autopsy. That would lead to the start of doping tests in 1968. The first athlete stripped of a gold medal for a doping violation was American swimmer Rick de Mont for using an asthma medication. Even though the substance is no longer on the banned list, the IOC won’t give back his gold medal. Steroid use was known in the 70’s and it was actually 1976 that the Olympic Games started testing for them. There were steroid positives in Montreal. Moscow in 1980 had no positive tests but some medalists including two track and field gold medalists had been banned for a positive steroid test in the past.
WHAT LED TO IT ALL
Back to the subject of Ben Johnson, I made mention of how Ben Johnson burst onto the international scene by winning bronze in the 100m dash at the 1984 Olympics. That was a great improvement from the World Championships a year before where we only got as far as the semifinals. His two bronze was rather quiet news for Canada’s athletes as they had their best Olympics ever with 44 medals. Ten of them gold. Our ten golds during those Games were not only a delight but a relief since our last Summer Olympics gold medal came back in 1968. Between that time we had to deal with the embarrassment in Montreal in 1976 of becoming the first and so far only host nation of a Summer Olympics to fail to win gold. We also had to deal with the heartache of our 1980 Summer Olympics team not even making it to Moscow as Canada joined the U.S. in boycotting those Olympics.
What was going on is that the sports world knew what was going on in terms of doping back during the 70’s and 80’s. Just like Calvin Smith said:”(Track athletes) know more than the public ever will.” I guess you can say that about every sport. Charlie Francis, Ben Johnson’s coach, would compete for Canada in the 100m dash at the 1972 Munich Olympics. He would hear rumors of how 80% of the field were on steroids. The crunch of sport being full of people on performance enhancing drugs would get heavier after the 1976 Olympics and the successes of athletes like the East German swimmers and weightlifters from various countries who many knew were doped but they won and passed the drug tests. When Charlie himself took to coaching, he was determined to make champions out of his athletes. However he had to deal with the challenge of an unlevel playing field and felt the only way to win was to encourage his own athletes to use steroids. That attitude: “If you don’t take it, you won’t make it.” He would give them drugs he knew the East Germans were taking at mass level. He even hired Dr. Jamie Astaphan after the 1984 Olympics to increase sophistication in his steroid program.
As for why Ben and his teammates agreed to take steroids, it was more than just about the desire to win. It also wasn’t until I saw the film that his athletes considered him not just a coach but a friend. Ben Johnson, Desai Williams and Angela Issajenko looked up to him very highly. They were Canadian immigrants from the Caribbean who felt like misfits and they took aback to Charlie how he made them feel like they belonged and how he helped them to succeed as athletes. In fact Francis helped coach all three of them to the 1984 Olympic Games where they all came home with Olympic medals. In addition to Ben’s two bronzes, Desai was part of Canada’s bronze medal-winning relay team and Angella was part of Canada’s silver medal-winning women’s 4*100m relay team. It’s that coach-athlete relationship thing that could have a lot to do with why they agreed to take the steroids at his encouragement. They looked up to him that much. Coach-athlete relationships are also of focus in 9.79* as it shows the relationships between Carl Lewis and Tom Tellez and Joe Douglas as well as Calvin Smith and his coach Wayne Williams. One thing the film showed me is that for all the show-off and braggart I always saw Carl Lewis to be, I admire him for the huge respect he had for his coaches and still has. Like he sang in his flop song: “You can’t win on your own.”
I’ll admit I knew a lot about doping even before the 1984 Summer Olympics. I’ll admit, as evident in my article from Tuesday, that I learned a lot of what was going on in the Scarborough Optimists Track Club and other athletic sources around that time. In watching the film 9.79*, the things that stuck most with me were the things I don’t remember or didn’t know about. The mention of the USOC and the drug testing programs back in 1983 were a surprise to me. Even as well the number of noticeable tampered or ‘chemically masked’ samples they attained and how none of the athletes were punished but warned instead. I’ll admit I didn’t pay much attention to the BALCO scandal that came to light in 2003. I knew only partial details and mention of Carl Lewis testing positive for a banned stimulant but I didn’t know all the facts. Also I didn’t know about the missing positive results from the last days of the 1984 Olympics. Nor did I know about Human Growth Hormone being untestable at the time. I’ve always known it to be testable but I forgot there was a time when it wasn’t.
This film gave more information about the doping programs created and the lightweight actions carried out. One of the things I was not surprised about was when Dr. Don Catlin talked about him asking the athletes why they were taking drugs. The answer was obvious: they want to win. Even as track and field was being professionalized, it became obvious that success was winning medals. In fact I remember the USOC conducted a survey in 1988 where they asked athletes who trained at the US Olympic Centre in Colorado Springs the survey question: “If you were given a pill that was guaranteed to make you Olympic champion but would kill you within five years, would you take it?” The result: 52% said “Yes.”
THERE’S MORE TO IT THAN DOPING
The film doesn’t just simply show you thoughts and opinions of those surrounding the event, and especially the subject of doping in track and field. The film also focuses on the sport of sprinting. It shows a lot of the training whether it be old videotapes of Ben’s workouts or even Dennis Mitchell coaching his young athletes. Ben will remind you in his conversations as demonstrated by Dennis Mitchell in his coaching that track athletes push their bodies beyond the human limits to be the best. Desai Williams summed it up well in his own words: “You work every single day, five or six days a week. You’re going to beat yourself into the ground. It’s tough: the sacrifice that every track person makes with no guarantee. None.”
The film also shows the times in which this was all happening too. The film also reminds us that this was happening at a huge turning point in track and field. Until 1980, professionals were not allowed to compete at the Olympics. If you wanted Olympic gold, you couldn’t make a single penny off your sport. Any money you made had to be a well-kept-secret. In fact track and field had separate amateur and professional leagues. Once professional athletes were given the green-light to compete in the Olympics in the early 80’s, things changed. Athletes who dreamed of Olympic gold didn’t have to accept under-the-table money anymore. Meets run by the IAAF could pay the athletes. Athletes in Olympic sports who had high profiles could hire agents. However professionalizing track and field it didn’t come without its growing pains. Meets hopping on the professional bandwagon had to market themselves. Hence Zurich’s Weltklasse being passed off as ‘The Olympics In One Night.’ Only athletes with big star status like Carl Lewis or Daley Thompson could command big appearance fees. The Carl Lewis/Ben Johnson rivalry was a great boost to the professionalizing of the sport and created a rivalry that drew crowds. Prize money per athlete varied anywhere from big money for the top finishers to chicken feed for the also-rans. It shouldn’t be a surprise that the prize money thing could cause problems in terms of doping.
That was quite an era for track. I don’t think there has been an athlete since Carl Lewis that could be that big of a draw, although I see a rival in Usain Bolt currently. There also hasn’t been a rivalry as exciting as the Carl Lewis/Ben Johnson rivalry. Not even the Carl Lewis/Mike Powell rivalry in the long jump that happened years later was as exciting, nor the rivalry of Carl Lewis vs. age during the mid-90’s. There isn’t a rivalry nowadays, not even Usain Bolt vs. Yohan Blake, that has the same excitement.
WHAT’S HAPPENED SINCE
Also remember how I talked about the East Germans and that being Angella Issajenko’s drive to hop on Charlie’s doping bandwagon? Well shortly after Germany reunified in 1990, just a year after the Dubin Inquiry concluded, the confessions were out that East Germany had a program of systematically administering steroid to their athletes headed by the Stasi, East Germany’s equal to the KGB. They knew which drugs to give which athletes, when to break them off to avoid detection, how often doses were needed to reach top performance and which drugs were undetectable at the time. After the confessions, many former East German Olympic champions have admitted to being part of the program. Some have asked their records be stripped and some are willing to give their medals back. One thing is many are reluctant to give their medals back, giving a common claim: “Yes, I was on steroids but I had the talent to win.” The thing is all of the records held by East Germans, even the world records, still stand and none of the medals have been demanded back by the IOC. That especially bites as a Canadian knowing that in three women’s swimming events in 1976, the fastest non-East German was a Canadian. It’s a shame. Three gold medals from Montreal that could’ve been and should be.
The thing was the intention of the Dubin Inquiry was not just to get to the bottom of Ben Johnson’s positive from Seoul. It was also to expose truths about doping in the sports world and hope to clean up sport not only in Canada but around the world too. If it did, it was quite minimal. You know how there are a lot of things that would eventually defeat their purpose over time like called ID and warning stickers on records? The Dubin Inquiry also defeated its purpose in a lot of aspects. This was the only time in history athletes confessed their doping use under oath. The subsequent punishments to the athletes who confessed caused many athletes to be a lot more protective of their innocence even after they test positive. Some would maintain their innocence to the point of taking their doping situation to court. They know that meets outside of the World Championships and the Olympic Games have doping labs that don’t have the same top-notch consistency and errors in procedures can result. They can use that to overturn their positive. There are even countries that know of positives in their own country but hide it around Olympic time so that the athlete can compete and win. A country like Canada can’t afford to do something like that, not after the embarrassment of Ben Johnson’s positive.
The 1996 Atlanta Games would present a new doping situation. There were many cases where athletes with positives outside of steroids would give explanations of taking medicine given by their team doctor. They’d be exonerated and they’d get their medals back. However it was made obvious at Sydney in 2000 that this kind of forgiveness was over when Romanian gymnast Andreea Raducan tested positive for a stimulant provided to her by the team doctor. Instead of exoneration, the stripping of her all-around gold medal stood and the doctor was suspended for two Olympic cycles. That was it. No more exonerations over a team doctor’s bad medicine. Enough was enough.
Doping still continues to be an issue in sport. New drug discoveries, new incentives or new needs to revamp the testing, new ways of dealing with doping, and even new commissions like WADA: the World Anti-Doping Agency, which was started in 1998 after officials believed the IOC lacked consistency in cracking down on dopers. WADA is headquartered in Montreal and headed by Canada’s Dick Pound who used to be the Vice-President of the IOC. In the 2000’s it was the Americans that were most under fire for doping in sport. If there were cover-ups during the 80’s, the cover-ups weren’t happening anymore as many sprinters were faced with positive drug tests. Marion Jones was the most famous as she would take years to confess her own steroid abuse since 2000. Even while two ex-husbands of hers had already tested positive during the times of her marriages, it still took her until 2007 to confess it all.
There are always new drugs. There are always new ways to try and get them and try to stay ahead of the tests. One thing is that there are some advancements. Out-of-competition testing has increased with surprise tests and even programs sponsored by the USOC where top runners volunteer to have themselves tested. One of which is sprinting star Allyson Felix. In addition, each Olympics takes doping tests to unprecedented levels than from before. Beijing 2008 introduced a new procedure where all tests would include samples frozen for four years and retested to crack down on athletes who thought they could be ‘ahead of the game.’ London 2012 had it so that every athlete in every sport that finished in the Top 5 in each event was tested. Also I don’t think we’ll ever see an equal to the sophistication of the East German doping program. That has to be the most successful systematic doping program of all time. China tried to copy that program in the 90’s but it wouldn’t work as positives resulted.
Steroid use isn’t just limited to sport. It’s also subject to professional wrestlers too and it was made a big issue in the wake of the murder-suicide of Chris Benoit and his family. Many believe ‘Roid Rage to be the cause. Steroid use is even rampant simply with men who go to the gym to work out. Ask anyone that works at a gym. There are even teenage boys and some as young as 11 going to guidance counselors and asking for steroids simply to look bigger. Even after they hear of the consequences, they still want it because they only care about their looks. I know there’s a lot of attention made to young girls and anorexia. I believe there should also be the same attention to young boys and steroids.
Interesting to note is that Track And Field is not the Olympic sport with the biggest doping problems. Weightlifting is. In fact just days before Ben Johnson would make the biggest doping news out of Seoul, two Bulgarian weightlifters who had won gold medals tested positive for diuretics, a drug possibly intended to be a masking agent. Funny how it could mask the steroids but failed to mask itself and caused the lifters to give back their gold medals, both receive the same sports ban as a steroid positive and cause the whole Bulgarian weightlifting team to return home prematurely and in embarrassment. Weightlifting has gotten tougher on doping. They have since changed the weights of weight classes and erased past records to start on a clean slate. They now give lifetime bans on the first steroid positive. They also place bans on nations who have multiple lifters that test positive consistently. One nation currently on that banned list is Bulgaria.
Funny thing is that the sprints are not the events in Track And Field with the biggest doping problem. It’s the throwing events. You’d be surprised how many Olympic medals have been given back in those events. The shot putters however have received the most doping positives and most returned medals. 9.79* presents the doping problem of the 1980’s and portrays it as the heyday of doping in sprints, or as Calvin Smith put it: “a time of big time drugs.” It doesn’t seem as rampant at first but 2013 shed light that it’s still a problem, if not at the same length as back in the 80’s. This year there were three doping positives from sprinters that made news which included former World Record holder Asafa Powell of Jamaica and former World Champion Tyson Gay of the US. In fact Powell tested positive for the same stimulant his Jamaican teammate Sherone Simpson tested positive for. This could cause suspicion over the Jamaican track program which has been so dominant in sprinting and hurdling over the past seven years.
ADDITIONAL NOTES ABOUT THE FINAL
Interesting thing about that final is that all of the runners in that final would have won Olympic medals in their careers. In fact you’ll see in 9.79* footage of the victory ceremony of the 1984 Men’s 4*100m relay: the US won gold with Jamaica silver and Canada bronze. There in that footage you’ll see five of the eight finalists: Lewis, Smith, Stewart, Johnson and Williams. As for the other three finalists:
- Linford Christie who finished third would get his bronze upgraded to silver in the aftermath and would be Olympic 100m champion in 1992.
- Robson da Silva won bronze in the 200m four days later.
- Dennis Mitchell would have to wait until 1992 to win Olympic medals where he won bronze in the individual 100m and gold in the 4*100 relay which Carl Lewis anchored to a new world record.
Also interesting to note is the drug issues the other athletes faced after the 1988 Olympics:
- Raymond Stewart: His doping issues came as a coach after he retired from running. It was made evident he was giving performance enhancing drugs to his athletes. The USADA banned him from coaching for life in 2010.
- Carl Lewis: so far that banned stimulant was the only known violation he did. Had proper doping procedures been carried out, he would have been banned for three months including the 1988 Olympics. However the USOC exonerated Lewis when he showed an official the supplements he was taking and classified it as an ‘inadvertent positive.’
- Linford Christie: he actually tested positive for a banned stimulant after the 100m dash final but was exonerated by the IOC’s disciplinary committee vote of 11 to 10 to keep him from sanctions. He wasn’t so lucky in 1999. An indoor meet in Germany tested him positive for Nandrolone and he was slapped with a two-year ban.
- Dennis Mitchell: he was banned for two years in 1998 for showing high levels of testosterone.
You yourself would be interested seeing the reactions of them when they’re confronted by Gordon in 9.79* of their own doping issues. Raymond insists that what he was giving to athletes were Vitamin B12 and insists he’s innocent. Carl Lewis provided me with one of my favorite moments while watching 9.79* When confronted about his positive for the banned stimulant, he gets all defensive and even insists on the fact that the stimulant is no longer on the banned list. Looks like Carl isn’t completely the Mr. Clean he packages himself to be. Linford isn’t questioned about the stimulant from 1988 but he is about the nandrolone from 1999. He tries to make like he’s ‘Mr. Clean’ and denies his 1999 positive even though he never did anything to legally overturn the result. Dennis Mitchell appears to be the only one of the others with a positive test willing to confess his wrongdoings. He admits to making a bad coaching decision and bad choices along the way.
It looks as though the only athletes never to have any doping issues in their careers was Calvin Smith and Robson da Silva, just two. If I had my way, I’d give the gold to Smith, silver to da Silva, get all the semifinalists who failed to qualify together for a run-off and give the bronze to the winner. That should fix everything. That’s another thing about the film is that it shows Calvin to be the one that should’ve been Olympic champion and even the sprinting great that could’ve been. Makes you wonder what would’ve happened had the field been level. Also sad to see that he may have received the bronze medal after Johnson’s disqualification but there wasn’t a second medal ceremony. Reminds you that even after justice was done, that’s the one thing missing.
The crazy thing about the whole doping thing is that the most honest former athletes in 9.79* were the Canadians. Of course, the Dubin Inquiry exposed it all. Ben, Desai and Angella were all punished. The Canadian ones lost the most and they have nothing left to hide and no one left to hide it from. Ben however acts like he still feels he deserves respect for what he did. Almost like he feels that since the field was unlevel and he was just the one that didn’t get away, he should receive some sort of vindication. Even his mention of Andre Jackson and the sabotage he claims–he claims Andre slipped pills in his beers and training water and even admitted it to him years later–makes me question his character. I felt like saying to Ben: “Just admit the truth.” Besides the Dubin Inquiry exposed the facts that Astaphan injected Ben with stanazolol that was called Winstrol before the competition. I want to think that it was the injections from Astaphan that caused the positive in Seoul. For those that didn’t see the film, Jackson responded to Ben’s allegations with an uninterviewed answer: “Maybe I did, maybe I didn’t. What was carried out in 1998 cannot and will not be invalidated.” Nevertheless it does make me wonder how an athlete from the Santa Monica Track Club who never qualified for the Olympics was able to get Olympic credentials to be with the finalists and even be with Ben in the doping room. That claim from Douglas that he was there to see if Johnson was taking a masking agent to cover up steroids in his system even got me thinking.
Desai and Angella however made class acts of themselves in the film by being honest and setting the record straight about themselves, their own doping and about what it’s like to be an elite athlete. I don’t condone sports doping of any kind but can understand the pressure to win these athletes feel. However I now have more respect for Angella and Desai as they have appeared to get wiser over time.
Of the non-Canadians, the most honest Americans were the doping officials Voy and Catlin. Now that the BALCO scandal exposed the cover-up facts starting in 2003, they can tell the whole story. Funny how Carl and his coaches deny everything. Carl’s lifetime coach Tom Tellez insists: “As a coach I wouldn’t want to (encourage steroid use.)You’re not a coach anymore!” Yes, there’s no evidence to suggest Carl used steroids–even coach Douglas’ statement about Carl’s eyes suggest Carl’s innocence–but seeing how defensive Carl gets when the positive at the 1988 Olympic trials is brought up suggests Carl may have something to hide.
Calvin Smith however was a class act as he was able to tell it how he saw it. Robson was another class act too. I like how he made mention of the potential money he lost in that race and mentions: “…but I sleep very nice every night.” You probably can’t say that about those that doped, even those that passed every doping test in their career.
There are a lot of interesting notes about what has happened since that race. 9.79 is no longer the world’s fastest time. It would be 11 years until a runner was able to touch 9.79 and pass the drug tests. It was American Maurice Greene at the 1999 World Championships. For the record, Greene never tested positive in any of his drug tests. 9.79 his either been touched or surpassed by seven sprinters since. In fact 9.79 was only good enough for a bronze in the London Olympic final. The world record is now 9.58 set by Jamaica’s Usain Bolt in 2009. Bolt also holds the Olympic record with the 9.63 he ran in London last year. The Canadian Record is 9.84 and is owned by Donovan Bailey for his gold medal run in 1996 and Bruny Surin for his second-place finish at the 1999 Worlds.
There’s no record whether the Scarborough Optimists club still exists. It wouldn’t surprise me if it folded in the midst of the scandal. Charlie Francis returned to coaching after the Dubin inquiry but was later banned for life when he made it clear he would return to giving his athletes steroids. He would later become a respected personal trainer and in 2003 would secretly train American sprinters Tim Montgomery and Marion Jones who would later face heat for their own doping issues. Francis died in 2010 at the age of 61. Ben Johnson was a pallbearer at his funeral. Dr. Astaphan would continue to face doping and drug trafficking issues for years after the scandal. After a release from a US prison in 1996, he would return to St. Kitts where he practiced medicine until his death in 2006.
Angella Issajenko released a tell-all just two years after Johnson’s disqualification telling her story of how she got into sports and doping. She would later become a teaching assistant and a track coach. Desai Williams now works as a speed coach for the Toronto Argonauts football team and currently trains Olympic track athletes as well. Mark McKoy, who was not interviewed for 9.79*, would later move to Austria in the wake of his steroid admission and subsequent two year ban. He would continue to represent Canada until 1994 and would win gold in the 110m hurdles at the 1992 Olympics. He has since returned to Toronto where he now works as a personal athletics trainer and therapist.
Ben Johnson comes across in the film as a lonely person looking for vindication. Actually he’s not that lonely as he is both a father and a grandfather. Johnson may have tested positive three times as a runner in his career but he has found success on his own as a soccer trainer. He’s trained Diego Maradona and Muammar Gadhafi’s son. He also released an autobiography of his own in 2010: Seoul To Soul.
Many Canadians had felt that this moment made Canada look like a country that dopes to win. I myself didn’t really lose faith in my country’s athletes. In fact I was at the Summer Olympics in Barcelona where Canada won eighteen medals, seven of them gold. I will admit that the Ben Johnson incident did make me suspicious when I saw the men’s 400m hurdles and a new World record set by the US’s Kevin Young. I was also in Vancouver cheering on our winter athletes too. Many want to look at the Olympic athletes as noble people who compete for the honor of their country and that Ben Johnson’s positive scarred their dignity forever. We should also remember they face pressures we ourselves will never face like the pressure to win for their country or for prize money and even face a tainted playing field. Also they face the pressure of people saying they let us down if they don’t win gold. We the fans are guilty of that too. As for Olympians, I know for a fact that there was cheating in the ancient Olympics too. In fact cheaters during the ancient Olympics would have their names engraved on a stone wall to be disgraced for eternity.
Not all was lost since that infamous moment. The Canadian Olympic Team would eventually leave Seoul with ten medals. Three of them gold. Yeah, that’s one thing I didn’t like about the film. It made Canada look like a gold medal-starved country when in fact Montreal in 1976 would eventually become the last Summer Olympics where Canada failed to win a gold medal. Canada has left every Summer Olympics since with anywhere from the one gold won in London 2012 to ten golds won in Los Angeles in 1984. Canada would begin a strong anti-doping campaign of its own. One of the athletes within the infamous Scarborough Optimist ring, hurdler Mark McCoy would win gold in the 110m hurdles in 1992. The biggest treat came the following Olympics in Atlanta where Canada could again claim the World’s Fastest Man. This time it was Donovan Bailey. Like Ben Johnson, a Jamaican Émigré. Unlike Ben Johnson, he had a natural sprinter’s build. Combine that with excellent coaching and he won the 100m dash gold in a World Record time in 9.84. It only took two Olympics for a Canadian sprinter to redeem Canada’s reputation in the eyes of the sports world. Bailey then teamed up with three other Canadian teammates for the 4*100m relay and helped to win another gold. This was a remarkable feat as this Canadian team was the first 4*100 relay team to officially defeat the American team of the gold medal. Officially meaning cause the Americans to cross the finish line after the gold medal champions. Until then, the American team lost the gold only upon disqualifications and the 1980 boycott.
9.79* is one of those documentaries I watch over and over again. I know this blog looks like a mix of a 30 For 30 Film review with talk about doping but the film did remind me about the problem of doping in sport and even make me question a lot of the runners that didn’t test positive that race and still try to pass themselves off as clean even though there’s a lot of evidence suggesting otherwise. It also makes you question the braces on Carl Lewis from 1987 to 1988. Was he on Human Growth Hormone at the time? 9.79*not only gives us answers but it still leaves us with a lot of questions.
Hard to believe that it was 25 years ago the world was in shock. Canada was especially shocked. I too was shocked in disbelief even as I was watching the news that day. We would all receive more shocking news over the years about Ben Johnson, those associated with him and even his rivals at the time. You think that people would learn from this. They may have but probably not much. I remember going on Twitter to an account about sports quotes and one uncredited quote was: “It’s better to lose on principles than to win on lies.” Sadly most young athletes don’t feel that way.
Yes, it’s leading up to the Vancouver International Film Festival. It’s to start Thursday September 25th and runs until Friday October 11th. There are a lot of similar expectations from last year that carry over to this year, but there’s one big new expectation for this year.
As noted in my summary of last year’s VIFF, 2012 was the last year it was to be held at the Granville 7 Cinema. The Cinema would continue for another three weeks until it was too close for good and be built into a condominium strata. All the volunteers and supporters of VIFF received a summary email where we were told that there would be a new main facility decided by the spring. The months of waiting would keep us guessing and the changes in the Vancouver movie theatre scene would have many of us nervous. First was the closure of the Ridge Theatre at the beginning of February of this year. The second would happen later that month as Festival Cinemas–the independent cinema group that ran The Ridge, The Park and Fifth Avenue cinemas–ceased existence upon the president’s retirement and left the two remaining cinemas in the hands of bigwig Cineplex Odeon. The question of which main theatre would be in charge of the VIFF left followers further in the dark.
Eventually the news came. The Vancouver Film Festival will be shown on nine screens at seven different locations:
- International Village Cinema (three screens)
- Vancity Theatre
- Centre For Performing Arts
- Vancouver Playhouse
- Rio Theatre
- SFU Woodwards Theatre
So there’s no one central location for this year’s VIFF. This will take some getting used to in its post-Granville 7 era. It’s a shame because the Granville 7 was very instrumental in its growth. In fact I was at the volunteer orientation yesterday and the volunteer leaders mentioned that even they are having to try to get used to the new theatres. So this year’s VIFF will be a challenge but it also promises to show a lot. The fact sheet states that 341 films are slated to be screened: over 200 are feature length and 92 are Canadian. Also those of you who attend the festival will notice the Cineplex logo on our volunteer shirts. That’s our new sponsor. So that’s a plus. Hey, having most of the showings at the International Village Cinema helps.
I’m back to volunteering again this year. This makes it my sixth year in volunteering. I’m looking forward to it. I’m able to get four days off from work to be able to volunteer during the daytime. So I hope to have a good time. I also hope for this to be a record-breaking year. I know it may be too much to expect for a film festival getting used to a new theatre system. Nevertheless it’s possible. Remember that 2011 is the record-setting year.
Wow. Sixteen days over three-hundred films from over 75 countries! The Vancouver Film Festival is back. So get ready to VIFF again!
“It’s one of those moments everyone remembered where they were when he won.”
-Toronto Star journalist Mary Ormsby
It’s funny how time passes. We always think that way whenever we remember a great moment in sports. It’s that same feel whenever we remember one of the more infamous moments in sports too. Today marks the 25th anniversary of the 1988 Olympic 100m dash final: a moment that would eventually become Canada’s most infamous moment at the Olympic Games. Any Canadian who was around at the time will remember that moment whenever you bring it up. However I was reminded of it two months ago when I saw an ESPN 30 For 30 film about it entitled 9.79* It was a film I watched repeatedly on Youtube. The film brought back a lot of memories for me but it also showed me there was more than met the eye at the time.
THE START OF IT ALL
Here in this blog I will reflect on my memories of that moment, the years leading up, the years since, and my own thoughts while watching 9.79*. I was a teenager around the time of the Ben Johnson/Carl Lewis rivalry. I was one who followed the rivalry rather closely. I still remember how it was first a case of Carl Lewis and how he matched Jesse Owens’ feat of four gold medals at the Los Angeles Games of 1984 in the same four event Jesse won gold in 1936. I knew of the Canadian named Ben Johnson who won bronze in the 100m dash during those Games. Back then, Ben Johnson’s bronze and the bronze of Canada’s 4*100 relay was good news but quiet news. Thanks to the boycott of the Eastern Bloc nations, Canada won 44 medals in Los Angeles including ten gold.
A RIVALRY IS BORN
I remember around 1985 reading about a Canadian named Ben Johnson who won a big 100m race and beat Carl Lewis along the way. Already that would catch some Canadians’ attention, including mine. A Canadian that could beat the great Carl Lewis. Attention from Canadians grew in 1986 when Ben Johnson continued his winning streak against Carl in 1986. I even remember reading of a meet Ben won with a time of 9.95 which was just .02 seconds shy of the world record. I sensed Johnson to be a possible Olympic champion in 1988 at that time and maybe a possible world record breaker.
Then came the 1987 World Championships in Rome. There are only two competitions in an Olympic sport where one can truly prove themselves the best in the world: the Olympic Games and the World Championships. It’s especially memorable not only for Ben Johnson’s win but for breaking the world record with a time of 9.83: one tenth of a second. I myself remember the World Championships of that year and CBC’s live broadcast. There was additional excitement to this showdown as Carl and Ben were assigned in side-by-side lanes which added more excitement. I was hoping to see the final live but I went away for something at the time. I don’t remember exactly what I left for. That night I saw the race at the end of a news broadcast. Before they were to show the race at the very end of the news show, the man made mention of the ‘9.83 seconds of Ben Johnson.’ I thought to myself: “9.83? That can’t be. You can’t break a 100m dash world record by a full tenth of a second. That’s too much. That has to be wind-aided.” I saw the rebroadcast of the race. I heard it was legit and I took it at face value at the time. For a year, I felt the same excitement as the rest of Canada knowing that we had the fastest man in the World. I think Ben even stole a lot of attention away from Wayne Gretzky. How often does a track athlete get more attention in Canada than a star hockey player? It made the anticipated Olympic showdown in Seoul that more exciting.
1988 AND THE BUZZ BEGINS
The Olympic showdown in Seoul was definitely something to wait for in big anticipation but it was still one year away. And a lot can happen in a year. First off was the Calgary Olympics. Canada again failed to win a gold medal. The months and weeks leading up to the Seoul Olympics would provide both excitement and drama. First there was excitement of the anticipated Johnson/Lewis duel. Then there was mention of another Canadian, Desai Williams who was also Johnson’s teammate from the Scarborough Optimists track club, being another potential threat to the field. There were the two Angelas–Bailey and Issajenko– who were both threats for the women’s 100m dash. For the record, the two Angelas did not get along well off the track. There was the CBC Olympic preview show Road To Seoul which showed the potential medalists for these Games, both Canadian and foreign in the various sports, and them telling their stories of their training, competing and their goals for the 1988 Olympics.
Then there was the drama of learning of Ben Johnson’s injury: a pulled hamstring. I didn’t learn about his injury until I was watching an Olympic preview show and it talked of Desai winning an international track meet as an injured Ben was a spectator in the stands. It left a big question mark whether Ben would heal in time for Seoul, not just for the sake of their own competition but drawing excitement and big-time attention to the Seoul Olympics. During Ben’s healing process came some more exciting news. In addition to Desai’s win, Angella Issajenko won the 100m at an international meet beating 1984 Olympic champion Evelyn Ashford of the US. The US Olympic trials also added to the excitement as Carl Lewis won the 100m in a wind-aided 9.78. Even though the time was not legit enough to be a world record, it sent a message to Ben which Ben naturally brushed aside. Another surprise moment at the US Olympic Trials was the 10.49 world record of Florence Griffith-Joyner in the 100m. It chopped more than a quarter of a second off the world record and is still questioned to this day, even though Griffith-Joyner’s autopsy results from 1998 declared nothing of steroid abuse.
Another note: I also remember one Olympic preview show talk about doping procedures and how they’re conducted. After a sporting event the athlete would produce their sample and it would be divided into two testing samples. If the first sample called the A-sample tests positive, only the athlete is notified and they are given two options. I forget what the first option was but I know the second option was reproducing a sample. If the second sample called the B-sample is positive, it’s confirmed and the necessary penalties and suspensions are carried out.
I was reminded in 9.79* of one key competition weeks before Seoul that would have a bearing on the story: the Weltklasse in Zurich. It’s funny how Zurich’s Weltklasse competition would provide a lot of key moments in the years of the Johnson/Lewis rivalry. In fact it was the 1985 Weltklasse where Ben’s first victory over Carl occurred. 1988’s Weltklasse was yet another focus of the Lewis/Johnson rivalry especially since this was Ben Johnson returning to competition since his hamstring injury. The Lewis/Johnson duel got even more attention than American sprinter Butch Reynolds breaking the 20 year-old world record in the 400m dash at that meet. I still remember CBC stopping broadcast of a soap opera at that time to show live telecast of that competition. I remember first seeing the warm ups and then seeing all of the runners shown lane-by-lane. Funny how the other sprinters who were in the same events of the Lewis/Johnson rivalry like Brit Linford Christie, American Calvin Smith and Jamaican Ray Stewart were frequently regarded by most as simply “lane-fillers” as Dennis Mitchell put it. I remember that Ben and Carl were again in opposite lanes and they both received the biggest cheers in the stadium when their names were announced. Then the run took place and Carl won with Ben third. That was Ben’s first loss to Lewis since 1985. I know it had some of us Canadian’s nervous. Hey, it was natural for us to want Ben to win in Seoul.
SEOUL 1988: THE MOMENT ARRIVES
Then came the Seoul Olympics. Sure enough the Lewis/Johnson rivalry was probably the most hyped-up rivalry before the Games. I can’t think of any other rivalry for Seoul that was more hyped-up. There were even the sentimental stories added to the hype of the rivalry. First was the constantly repeated story of Johnson being an immigrant and finding his place in track and field. As for Carl Lewis, his story was that his father died the year before and Carl put the 100m gold medal from 1984 into his coffin. He told his surprised family: “Don’t worry. I’ll win another.”
Even before the final, there was drama in the preliminary races. First was the quarterfinal Johnson ran in. Johnson finished third and with there being six quarterfinals, the Top 2 automatically qualified for the semi while the last four qualifiers would be the four fastest of those that finished between 3rd and 6th. Ben ran the first quarterfinal and would have to wait until all six were run to know if he qualified. You could bet it was an agonizing time not just for Ben but for Canada too. Even after it was clear Ben’s time was fast enough to qualify, many of us Canadians including myself were still nervous. After seven days of Olympic competition, Canada was still waiting for its first medal of any color at these Games and we didn’t know what to expect from Ben the next day. As for Carl, he not only won his quarterfinal easily but was the only one to run it under 10 seconds. Anyways Ben and Canada could breathe a sigh of relief in the semis the next day as Ben won his semifinal. However Carl also won his semi and just like in the quarterfinals, he was the only one to run it under ten seconds. The heavily-anticipated Lewis/Johnson rivalry in Seoul would finally be a reality in the final but the world would then have to wait an hour and a half for it to start.
THE FINAL: THE HYPE IS NOW A REALITY
I remember where I was during that exact moment too. It was a Saturday afternoon in Seoul when the event happened which meant because of the time difference, live broadcast took place late evening on a Friday for us Canadians. I don’t remember exactly too much about what I saw before the race started. I remember that my mother, my sister and I gathered around the television set. My father was at work doing overtime. Talk about hard luck that day. I remember the lane-by-lane rundown of all the finalists. I knew all their names but 9.79* reminded me of which runner was in which lane. I never forgot Carl was in Lane 3 and Ben was in Lane 6. I was also reminded by 9.79* of the starter and how he said “Take your marks” and “Set” in Korean. The film has made the memory hard to forget since.
Then the start. Surprisingly there was not a single false start beforehand: just one bang and it started. Then the race: I could remember Ben in the lead right at the start of the gun. All of us were glued to the television set in both excitement and nervousness. Once Ben crossed the finish line, we all jumped up and cheered loudly in celebration. I was also stunned to see the world record from Rome broken. My father even called from work as he heard it on the radio while working. I remember he asked me: “Did you see it?” in excitement. I remember going into a conversation though I forgot all we talked about. The following night I went to a party. We were all drinking and dancing. I remember one guy saying “Yeah! Ben Johnson!” Euphoria continued on the Sunday as well as relief that we were now winning more medals in other events.
THE TRUTH IS UNRAVELED
Then the bombshell. Everybody may remember where they were when they were when the final was contested and I’m sure most, if not everybody, may remember where they were when they heard the shocking news. I remember where I was when I received the first hint. It was late Monday afternoon and I returned home from school. My mother came and said: “I heard some bad news.” I didn’t know what she was talking about. Then she said: “There’s news of a positive drug test and they think it’s Ben Johnson.” I was surprised but I thought to myself; “It can’t be.” I then turned on the television. Within time I learned that it was true. Ben Johnson had tested positive for the anabolic steroid stanozolol. I believe at first I didn’t want to believe it. However it was there on the television right in front of my face.
I remember switching between the channels showing Olympic coverage that evening. It was all the same. Both CBC channels, the English and French-language ones, had the story. Even NBC was showing it. I also remember CBC’s live broadcast from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Main Press Centre. It first started with an official announcing the sanctions to Ben: disqualification which included being stripped of his gold and a two-year ban from competition. It was followed by Alexandre de Merode, head of the IOC Medical Commission, being asked questions in various languages and responding in French. I was flicking between the three channels at that time. One station returned attention to the Olympic competition with the start of the men’s road race in cycling. Very ironically, it was won by Olaf Ludwig of East Germany. You’ll what I mean by ‘very ironically’ in my follow-up blog three days from now. That day did have some redeeming competition moments like Greg Louganis completing diving’s double-double of gold medals by winning platform diving and Canadian sailor Lawrence Lemieux receiving a porcelain box from the IOC for saving the life of a Singaporean sailor in danger of drowning days earlier.
The aftermath was ugly. I remember Ben’s sister constantly saying: “No! No! He would never do anything like this!” I remember many people were saying it’s possible to be sabotage. I remember news footage of Ben making his way to the Seoul airport and Ben’s arrival in Toronto. Both times he was met by news people that were both hungry and hostile. I remember hearing of all the professional companies that endorsed Ben Johnson including Diadora withdrawing their endorsements to him almost immediately. Most Canadian athletes tried to compete without letting the news affect their own performances. The Canadian team would leave Seoul with a total of ten medals, three of them gold. The Canadian track team struggled to compete in the wake of that debacle. Canada’s only legit medal in Track and Field was decathlete David Steen’s bronze. The sprinters just fell apart. Canada was medal favorites in both 4*100m relays but the scandal just caused the sprinters to fall apart. The women’s team failed to qualify for the final and the men’s team could only muster 7th.
Outside of Olympic competition, I remember a lot of news stories continuing. I remember Ben publicly declaring he had never knowingly taken steroids. Charlie Francis added to the alleged insistence of sabotage. But Angella held nothing back when she returned back to Canada. She declared that Ben took steroids and he knew about it. I remember news talk about Charlie’s team doctor Jamie Astaphan. I don’t remember of any mention of Dr. Astaphan before the news of the positive. If there was any, it may have been footnotes. After the news of the positive, you can bet there was focus on him. All this would pave way to an inquiry to get answers. Did Ben knowingly take steroids? Or was it sabotage? Who else was involved?
On a comedic note, I remember watching the first Saturday Night Live of that season. There was the Weekend Report with Dennis Miller and he did some post-Olympic humor. First was of the American Joyner family. The second was on Ben Johnson. You’d figure SNL wouldn’t dare miss a chance on this. And they delivered as they had a segment where Ben inspired the All-Drug Olympics. The competition was held naturally in Bogota, Colombia and there was ‘live footage’ of a Soviet weightlifter attempting to lift a huge weight. The sportscaster detailed all the drugs the lifter took and said: “but it’s legit, actually it’s enouraged, here at the All-Drug Olympics.” The lifter didn’t just simply fail in his lift but his arms fell off, leading him bleeding from the joints. Miller ended the segment cracking: “With the Games half-over, Canada leads in total medals.” Further cracks from SNL on Ben Johnson would continue over the episodes which would piss my teenage sister off a lot. I don’t think she got it at the time but the reason why Ben Johnson and Canada got a lot of pot shots on SNL was because creator-writer Lorne Michaels is Canadian.
AN INQUIRY GETS TO THE BOTTOM OF THIS
The Canadian government set up an official inquiry at the start of 1989 to get the answers on Ben’s positive results. The inquiry would be conducted by chief justice Charles Dubin and would be officially known as the Dubin Inquiry. The Inquiry turned out to expose more than just the answers to the Ben Johnson scandal. In fact I remember one of the athletes testifying one month before Charlie Francis was a Canadian weightlifter who had nothing to do with the Ben Johnson scandal. Even some doctors involved in outside doping cases were interviewed. Shows that the inquiry was more than about getting answers to a positive drug test at the Olympics.
In March 1989, almost five months since the test results were made public, Charlie Francis took the stand to testify. He admitted that he gave steroids to his athletes and that Ben knew all along that he was taking them. He even said that steroids gave a one-meter advantage in an event like the 100m dash. Simultaneously I remember reading that Desai Williams, who was preparing for a track meet in Europe, confessed his own participation in taking the steroids given by Charlie Francis. His reason: “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.” I also remember Carl Lewis’ reaction in response. He declared Ben: “a liar and a cheat. At least I have the world record by a clean athlete.” Angella Isajenko testified the following week. She even went as far as bringing her diary where she documented her steroid intake since 1979. I never saw live broadcast of the inquiry or even news coverage of that event. I did however read about it in the local newspaper. That’s the most I remember of that, and the tears she shed for her teammates the following day.
There was one athlete not directly connected to the Ben Johnson scandal that caught my attention. It was Canadian sprinter Tony Sharpe. He competed at the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984 and qualified for the 100m dash final and would run as part of Canada’s bronze medal-winning 4*100m relay team. He stated in his testimony that steroid abuse gave him physical complications and would eventually lead to his premature retirement from the sport back in 1985. Serves as a reminder that for all the physical advantages steroids give, they also cause a lot of physical problems too.
Funny thing is right when the Dubin Inquiry was happening, an American sprinter named Darrell Robinson said he saw Carl Lewis and Florence Griffith-Joyner purchase vials of steroids. I remember that story quite well. I also remember reading in Sports Illustrated that Robinson and Griffith-Joyner, who retired shortly after Seoul, were both interviewed on the Today show where Griffith-Joyner called Robinson a ‘lying lunatic.’ Robinson responded: “The truth will come out.” I remember hearing many stories about Carl threatening to sue Robinson but I don’t think it ever came about. I never did learn the end result.
Back to the Dubin Inquiry, Dr. Astaphan finally testified. He admitted of all the steroids he gave to Charlie Francis and his athletes but the biggest shocker is that he gave some steroidic medicines that were veterinarian medicines: not meant for humans! I also remember him talking frequently of Winstrol. The bizarre thing I remember about this was that after he talked of all that he administered, he said he was keeping in line with the Hippocratic Oath he swore under. Funny. Since when did giving athletes performance enhancing drugs become in allegiance with the Hippocratic Oath?
The crazy thing about this is that with every athlete or professional connected to the Ben Johnson scandal giving testimony, it made me more and more impatient in waiting for Ben himself to testify. Ben finally testified in June. I remember on that day, someone in my family was watching something else on television. It was the only television in the house at the time. I then turned on the radio and I could hear Ben Johnson examined by the justice. Later on he would admit to taking them. When asked why he said he never knowingly took them upon arriving home, he said it was because he was tired and frustrated from all that was happening. He also told the youth of Canada not to take steroids. Funny thing is even after Ben Johnson had completed his testimony, there were still people and doctors that testified some time after. Also I remember just shortly after Johnson’s testimony, Geraldo Rivera did a show about steroids on his talk show Geraldo. I remember at the conclusion of the inquiry, Justice Charles Dubin stated his conclusions and verdicts. He also blamed the cutthroat competitiveness of competitive sports and even things like the Olympic Games and high-payout athletic endorsements for the rampant use of steroids.
There were additional penalties after the Dubin Inquiry. Both Desai and Angella were banned from competition for two years and were stripped of all their records. They would retire in that time. Other Canadian runners such as Mark McCoy who didn’t run his relay leg in Seoul in the wake of the scandal also received a two year ban. Charlie Francis would soon be banned from coaching for life. He appeared to have come clean after he admitted giving his athletes steroids. However he’d be disgraced again when he announced that he’d continue giving his athletes steroids. Once that was made public, he was banned for life. Ben Johnson’s world record from the 1987 World Championships was also stripped from the record books. The new record was the 9.92 run by Carl Lewis in Seoul. Ben was however allowed to keep both of his Olympic bronzes from Los Angeles. Desai and Angella were allowed to keep their 1984 Olympic medals too.
There are some interesting footnotes. One is that there were three books released in a matter of two years since that were either about the scandal or made mention of the scandal. The most notable was Carl Lewis’ autobiography Inside Track released late in 1990. In that same time period Charlie Francis released his book Speed Traps. However the biggest one for me was Angella Issajenko and her book Running Risks which was released around the same time as Inside Track. I remember she even had a radio interview on a Winnipeg station while promoting her book. She made mention of a meet where Canada’s senior women’s relay team finished behind East Germany’s junior relay team. That’s when she made the decision to go on steroids. She also said she believed the world has learned nothing from this. I admire Angella for most telling it like it was.
For years after Seoul, there was the big question about Ben Johnson running again. For a long time, the Canadian Olympic Committee (COC) was saying he can’t run for Canada again. Jamaica said they didn’t want him back. That changed when Carol Anne Letheren was made head of the COC. Johnson was allowed to compete for Canada again. I even remember a news story of Ben Johnson with his new coach in 1990. Ben’s comeback began at an indoor meet in the winter of 1991. I remember tracing Ben’s comeback attempt at the time. Upon returning, Ben looked less bulky since Seoul. Ben lost the race by a close margin. Ben would continue competing. However reality sunk in when there was a meet in France which was to be the first Johnson/Lewis rivalry since Seoul. It was actually won by American Dennis Mitchell. Carl Lewis finished second and Ben finished eighth and last. I was really hoping for Ben to come back from this and I was starting to lose hope in him. Further hope was lost when I learned he finished fourth at the World Championship Trials. His only berth at the Worlds came on the men’s relay. For the record, Canada had a new national fastest man: Bruny Surin. Ben was still persistent. He would qualify for the 100m dash at the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona while Carl Lewis was ill at the US Olympic Trials and missed qualifying. Johnson only got as far as the semifinals in Barcelona. At that time I sensed some hope for Ben in the future.
Unfortunately the Barcelona Olympics would be the last major competition Ben would appear in. Months later, he allegedly failed another drug test. This time he was banned for life. I was shocked myself because I wanted to see him come back a winner. He protested his innocence but declined to fight the charge since he was nearing the end of his career. He did fight the charges five years later and won only to test positive again in 1999. By then, I just shrugged it off. I didn’t have to worry. Canada already had a new World’s Fastest Man in Donovan Bailey and he never failed a doping test. It was obvious that steroids made Ben.
So there you go. Those are my memories of the final in Seoul and what happened in the years leading to it and the years leading since. If I wouldn’t have seen that film 9.79*, I wouldn’t have remembered that today’s the 25th Anniversary of that moment. My how time flies. Anyways you heard my thoughts on the big moment today. I also posted my thoughts on doping in sport on Friday.
It’s interesting how many films have been re-released in 3D. However this week marked an opportunity to see a classic movie re-released in 3D for the first time ever, and in IMAX to boot. It seems appropriate that the first classic movie to receive a 3D re-release is The Wizard Of Oz. The big question is does The Wizard Of Oz work in 3D?
Just like my review of the 3D re-release of Titanic, I will focus my review in the 3D aspect of the film as well as other technical aspects. The most I will mention about the film itself is that it still qualifies as a masterpiece. The acting, singing and dancing are top notch and the movie is perfectly edited. The visual effects are very cheap and chintzy by today’s standards but they didn’t have today’s visual effects technologies 75 years ago. Nevertheless the movie continues to entertain families even to this day. It’s no wonder why it’s stood the test of time. In fact I declare: “If you haven’t seen The Wizard Of Oz, you didn’t have much of a childhood.” The film has received a load of acclaim including a #10 ranking on the AFI’s 2007 list of the Top 100 Films of all time, a #3 ranking on their list of the Best Musicals, a #1 on the Top Fantasy Films and a #43 rank on the Top Thrillers List. Three of its lines made the AFI’s list of the Top 100 Movie Quotes with “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.” being #4. Three of its songs made the AFI’s list of the Top 100 Movie Songs with Over The Rainbow naturally being #1.
Another interesting note to add is that it was directed by Victor Fleming. Fleming also directed another masterpiece released in 1939: Gone With The Wind. Both would become two of the greatest films ever made. 1939 would be considered one of the greatest movie years ever and you could bet it was because of those two movies. No doubt they established Fleming as one of the biggest directors ever.
As for the 3D IMAX re-release, I often questioned in the days before seeing it whether it was a good idea to re-release it in 3D? Technology’s changed a lot in the many decades since. The special effects would be seen as cheap by today’s movie goers. Would the 3D work? Would the IMAX theater format work?
I saw it Saturday night. Hey, this is a one-week only limited time thing. The film started on an impressive note. I noticed the 3D work with the MGM roaring lion and the opening credits with the clouds in the background. As for the story, I didn’t notice how the 3D addition made too much effect on the movie. The debris from the cyclone didn’t really surprise us. The bedroom window images Dorothy was looking at in mid-air was made too obvious this was film-on-film work. The pyrotechnics used didn’t appear 3D. The flying monkeys didn’t appear like they were coming for me as I was hoping they would.
I don’t think the 3D effect really added too much too the movie. Showing it on an IMAX screen did. It wasn’t necessarily the special effects that were enhanced by the IMAX screen but it was the viewing of the whole movie. I’ve seen it on television many times but just to experience it on an IMAX screen was definitely something. I think I would have been impressed even if I saw it on a regular movie screen. Nevertheless it was a delight to see. The movie must have been remastered because the colorful images of Oz were incredible. The ruby slippers shined, the makeup on the tin man looked fresh, the green face of the witch looked scary, Glinda’s gown looked majestic, the yellow brick road looked freshly painted, Emerald City glowed…I think I could go on forever. Even the sound appeared remastered as the movie score and the musical numbers from everyone, especially Judy singing Over The Rainbow, sounded completely fresh.
Funny thing is that it has me wondering if there will be any other classic movies that would receive a 3D re-release. I will admit that The Wizard Of Oz is the one classic movie that most deserves a 3D re-release but will others follow? I’m sure there are some, like say King Kong or Ben-Hur or the Ten Commandments. I’m tempted to think some of those sci-fi B-movies from the 50’s would be great to re-release in 3D. So would Star Wars. Actually does Star Wars now qualify as a classic movie?
Oh yeah. For those curious about the box office biz, it made roughly $3.1 million this weekend. Ironically it made $3 million back during its original release in 1939. Actually $3 million would be lots in 1939. I’m sure if you adjusted 1939’s total with inflation and added in the grosses of the various re-releases, it would be in the hundreds of millions.
I’ll admit that I find 3D releases of movies cash-grabs, including 3D re-releases. The 3D of the 3D IMAX re-release of The Wizard Of Oz didn’t add too much. However the IMAX format and the remastering of both the images and the sound made it an excellent viewing pleasure. Reminds you that it’s so right and proper that it be re-released on the big screen whatever format it’s given.
The news involving the Hollywood box office for the most part has been pretty negative especially in terms of the annual total gross or all the action movie flops this summer. One thing that has been overlooked is the overall success of the summer. It actually did better than most people noticed. Or most journalists took note of.
Continuing from where I last kept track, July was actually a bigger month than most people noticed. Yes, the big news of the action flops of that month like The Lone Ranger, Pacific Rim, Red 2 and R.I.P.D. What shouldn’t be overlooked were the big successes of the month like the minion power of Despicable Me 2, the goofball comedy of Grown Ups 2, suspense of The Conjuring and even the successful action-packed delivery of The Wolverine. Overlooked by most, 2013 produced the highest-grossing July ever with $1.291 billion: $20 million more than the previous July record set in 2008 and almost $220 million more than July 2012. Funny how the flops made bigger news than the successes.
August also continued the run of success for the summer of 2013. It opened with the success of 2 Guns, continued with the temporary success of Elysium, received surprise successes from We’re The Millers and Lee Daniels’ The Butler and ended on a bright note with the opening of One Direction: This Is Us. At the buzzer, August 2013 grossed $755.4 million: $16.4 million more than August 2012. 2013 is not the highest-grossing August ever as it’s been outgrossed by the Augusts of 2001 and 2007.
So if you want to give a rough estimate of comparing summers, by simply adding up the grosses from May to August of both 2013 and 2012, the summer months of 2013 grossed slightly more than $425 million more than the summer months of 2012. This is a welcome relief after the slumping of the first four months of the year. It doesn’t completely make up the deficit it had over the monthly pace of 2012’s total gross but it does help gain a lot back and reassure us that people still like to go to the movies despite how many forms of entertainment people have.
One thing is the successes and failures of 2013 can teach Hollywood a lot about shelling out movies for the public. I will admit that the news about the constant flopping of the big budget action movies did deserve to be made note of. In fact it continued with Elysium despite how good quality it was. One thing that should have also been taken note of was the low-budget successes that happened. Some of which had quite minimal expectations put on them. First example is the horror drama The Conjuring which made $136 million total all on a budget of $20 million. In fact it debuted at #1 in its opening weekend with a gross more than double its budget. Another example is the oddball comedy We’re The Millers. It never was #1 at the box office but it opened with a healthy opening weekend of $26.4 million and went onto a gross that currently stands at $132 million. This movie had to be the movie that had legs this summer. The most current example is Lee Daniels’ The Butler. That’s not your typical summer fare but it held the #1 spot during the last three weekends of the summer and just hit $100 million this weekend. Hollywood, take note.
It’s not to say that action moves were a complete dud this summer. It actually opened strong with Iron Man 3 and continued with Star Trek Into Darkness and World War Z. However the first sign that the crowd was about to tire of this genre was when Man Of Steel didn’t gross as much as hoped. Sure, $291 million is still impressive and has it as the 3rd-highest grossing movie of 2013, but more was expected. I believe that was the first sign that it would be all downhill from here for this summer’s action flicks.
What should be noted is that the biggest winners at the box office were not necessarily the action movies but the animated family movies. Iron Man 3 may have been the highest grossing movie of 2013 so far but Despicable Me 2 is the second-highest. Its Minion Power took it to a total gross of just over $359 million. Monsters University holds as the fourth-highest of 2013 with $265 million. A third animated movie, Epic, also received an impressive total gross of $107 million.
So that sums up the summer of 2013. Action-packed, animatedly-charming and surprises out of left field. For every box office dud, there were hits. The bad news of the summer action flick would lead to good news of this summer’s total gross. Hollywood should learn from this summer and prepare not simply for a better summer but a smarter-planned summer for 2014.
The members of the International Olympic Committee will meet in Buenos Aires from September 7th to 10th for their committee Session. This will be the 125th Session the IOC has held since 1894. Usually there’s your typical IOC business to discuss at the Session but this is one Session where there will be three high-focused issues.
Host City Of The 2020 Summer Games:
The IOC Sessions are where the elections are held for the host cities of future Olympic Games. They’re voted on usually six or seven years beforehand. The bidding process officially begins two years earlier when the IOC sends letters to the national Olympic Committees to submit bids. Bid confirmations and seminars follow and then the field gets narrowed down to a shortlist of candidates. This time it’s three. All three cities were visited by the IOC’s Evaluation Commission in March during three separate four-day periods and the report of the cities would be delivered in June followed by a briefing session of the candidate cities with IOC members in Lausanne. On Saturday the 7th, the vote for the host city of the XXXIInd Olympics will come down to three cities:
- Istanbul, Turkey – Turkey is the one country amongst the bidders that has never hosted an Olympic Games. However Istanbul has a good reputation of hosting events such as many soccer events and even a swimming World Championships. Also Turkey’s worldwide reputation has improved a lot in the past thirty years especially amongst joining the EU.
- Tokyo, Japan – This is the heavy favorite. Tokyo actually has hosted the Summer Games before back in 1964. Japan has continued to be a good host for sporting events like two Winter Olympics (Sapporo in 1972 and Nagano in 1998) and co-hosting the 2002 World Cup. However the earthquake, tsunami and the Fukushima nuclear plant catastrophe still hang like a dark cloud over Japan and this may cause some to be weary of voting for Tokyo.
- Madrid, Spain – This is Madrid’s third attempt at hosting the Summer Olympics. It is given the least odds of the three host cities but don’t rule it out. We shouldn’t forget Rio had the third-most odds before the vote for the 2016 host. Both Madrid and Spain have a stellar record of hosting sporting events. Barcelona hosted the 1992 Summer Olympics. Spain hosted the 1982 World Cup and the final was held in Madrid. Madrid has also hosted World Championships in Aquatic sports, basketball and even major tournaments in track and field and tennis. Madrid enters this race as the city that has proven the most in hosting sporting events.
The 26th Sport For 2020:
Usually an Olympic Session votes on including sports in the Olympic program. Here there will be a vote on including a 26th sport for the 2020 Summer Olympics. However that inclusion risks causing a highly-publicized exclusion. Months ago the IOC announced the Top 25 ‘core’ sports that made the cut for being contested for the 2020 Summer Olympics. What made the biggest noise was the one sport that didn’t make the cut: Wrestling. Wrestling has been part of the Olympic Games even up to its ancient contests in the 7th century B.C. It was included in the modern revival of the Olympic Games ever since the first Olympics in 1896 and has been part of every modern Olympics except for 1900. Wrestling was again contested at the London Games of 2012 where 29 nations won at least one Wrestling medal. Only Track and Field put more nations on the podium in London.
However it was not seen as Olympic enough to be a ‘core’ sport. Many National Olympic Committees have spoken their disappointment with this decision. Even the president of the International Wrestling Federation (FILA) resigned in disappointment. However Wrestling has been given a second chance as a sport up for the vote for the ’26th sport’ for 2020. The only other two sports rivaling wrestling are Squash which has never been contested at the Olympics and Baseball/Softball: sports contested from 1992 to 2008 and seeking to return to the Olympic program. The structuring of inclusions and exclusions of sports really shows how much the IOC has changed in the last 20 or so years. It also puts into question the future of other sports. I know the IOC is trying to keep the Olympics from getting too big but is exclusion of sports really the answer?
The New IOC President:
Tuesday September 10th will be the vote for a new president of the International Olympic Committee. After 12 years, Jacques Rogge will step down as president of the IOC. Rogge leaves a legacy of improving sports in developing countries and of making efforts for hosting the Olympic Games to be less costly. It’s not to say he’s had some controversies of his own. He had been rumored to participate in a discussion about Chinese internet censorship as they we about to host the Beijing Games in 2008. Nevertheless I consider him to be the least dictator-like IOC president in history.
Now on to selecting a new president. There are six men from six countries up for the position:
- Thomas Bach – Germany: Four months ago he was actually the first person to announce his run for the IOC presidency. He is an IOC member since 1991 and the President of the Arbitration Appeals Division for the Court of Arbitration of Sport. He is also an Olympic champion. Back in 1976, he was part of West Germany’s gold medal-winning Foil Fencing team. He’s the heavy favorite.
- Ng Ser Miang – Singapore: Ng has been an IOC member since 1998 and has been part of the Executive Board since 2005.
- Richard Carrion – Singapore: He has been a member of the IOC since 1990, currently chairs the Finance Commission and is a member of the IOC’s Marketing, TV and International Rights Commission. He’s also the CEO of financial holding company Popular, Inc., one of the most powerful financial companies in Puerto Rico.
- Wu Ching-Kuo – Taiwan (Chinese Taipei): He has served as an IOC member since 1988 and has served as the president of the International Boxing Association.
- Denis Oswald – Switzerland: He has served as an IOC member since 1991 and is the current head of the International Rowing Federation.
- Sergei Bubka – Ukraine: He has served as an IOC member since 2008 and is current head of the Ukrainian Olympic Committee. He is also considered to be the greatest pole vaulter in history. He was Olympic Champion in 1988 and has set 35 pole vault world records in his career.
One of these six will be the new president. It’s possible we could have the first president ever that was a former Olympic champion. It will all be decided Tuesday.
The 125th IOC Session has lots in stock when the various IOC members meet in Buenos Aires. There’s the usual admission of new members and there’s also the big matters I talked about. No kidding that lots need to be taken care of here.