Brazil’s Olympic Legacy

Brazil Olympic
Brazil’s athletes have won a total of 108 Olympic medals in 14 sports.

 

Whenever an Olympic Games happens, I usually publish a blog relating to the host city or the host country. In this case, I’ll be focusing on Brazil’s past Olympic success and it has a lot. Brazil has won a total of 108 Olympic medals: 23 of them gold. That ranks them 33rd for all-time medals at the Summer Olympics. That’s also the most of any South American nation.

OFF TO A START

The very first Olympic Games Brazil sent an Olympic team to was the Antwerp Games of 1920 and they debuted with a bang, literally. Brazil won a gold, silver and bronze in various shooting events. The gold going to Guilherme Paraense in the rapid fire pistol event.

After the Antwerp Games, Brazil’s Olympic results consisted of woes up to World War II. They sent a 12-athlete team to Paris in 1924, a 67-athlete team to Los Angeles in 1932 which I will focus later on, and a 73-athlete team to the Berlin Games of 1936. All of which resulted in not a single medal won. Nevertheless there were some rays of hope. The biggest being from swimmer Maria Lenk. Just after finishing out of the final at her event in Berlin, she would set a world record in her event. She made history as the first Brazilian swimmer ever to hold a swimming world record. The Maria Lenk Aquatic Centre which was built for the 2007 Pan Am Games and will host three aquatic sports for Rio 2016 was named in her honor.

HARD TIMES FOR 1932

One of Brazil’s most famous Olympic stories is not exactly a positive one. It involved their Olympic team in 1932 as the world was going through the Great Depression at the time. Brazil was also hit hard during the Great Depression and their Olympic team were also feeling the heat. In order to raise funds for the team, the athletes would sell coffee beans at every port their ship, the Itaquicê, would dock at. Once the shipped docked at San Pedro, the authorities at the Port Of Los Angeles charged Brazil $1 for each athlete they let off the ship. The Brazilian team first let off the athletes with the best medal chances and swimmer Maria Lenk who would become the first Brazilian female to compete at the Olympics. However it wasn’t all over. The Itaquicê then sailed to San Francisco to sell more beans to fund the other athletes. It was successful enough to give the water polo, rowing and athletics athletes enough funds to compete. However the lack of funds meant 15 athletes could not live out their Olympic dreams and thus sail back to Brazil on the Itaquicê. The best result for the team was a 4th place in rowing.

SLOW BUT SURE IMPROVEMENTS

Adhemar
Brazil’s first Olympic great: triple-jumper Adhemar Ferreira da Silva.

After World War II, Brazil would get better in sports at the Olympic Games but it would mostly go unnoticed for decades. The biggest notice came in the men’s triple jump. Even before the Helsinki Games in 1952, Adhemar Ferreira da Silva held the world record in the men’s triple jump. In Helsinki, winning was an ease for da Silva as he won by almost 10 inches and set a new world record in the process. Da Silva would repeat as Olympic champion in 1956. Da Silva would prove himself to be one of the greats of triple-jumping as his career would not only include two gold medals but he’d also break the world record five times in his career. Da Silva would prove to be inspiring to Brazil as there would be two other male triple jumpers who would win Olympic medals and break the world record too.

Unfortunately for Brazil, Da Silva would prove to be Brazil’s only Olympic champion up until 1980. With the exception of a silver in the triple jump in 1968, Brazil’s Olympic teams after World War II would come home with nothing but bronze in that meantime. Sure they’d always have at least one medal but a single silver and the rest bronze was pretty much it from 1960 to 1976. It’s not to say it was all bad as Brazil would expand its abilities to win medals in other sports like basketball, swimming, sailing and judo.

A BREAKTHROUGH IN 1980

The boycott of the Moscow Games in 1980 may have kept other nations at home but Brazil didn’t cave into the pressure. Their participation at the Moscow Games boosted its sporting confidence. The team won its first gold medals since Da Silva: two in sailing. These Games would later open the doors to Brazilians in sailing as success would continue. Brazil has won a total of 17 medals in sailing: six of them gold. The team in 1980 would also win bronzes in swimming and triple-jumping.

1980 would prove to be a boost of confidence to their Olympians as more success would follow. Los Angeles in 1984 would be the stage for Joaquim Cruz as he won gold in the 800m: Brazil’s first gold in a running event. Brazil would also win an additional five silver and two bronze at those Games. Possibly making amends for 1932. Medals came in judo, volleyball, sailing, swimming and their first-ever men’s football medal: a silver. Up until 1984, professionals weren’t allowed to compete at the Olympics which meant Brazil could only send ‘diluted’ teams to the Olympics which kept them out of the medals. Professionals were allowed to compete at the Olympics for the first time in 1984 and it opened the floodgates to Brazil–although not completely– to send better football teams to the Olympics. Dunga was part of the silver medal-winning 1984 team.

The Seoul Games of 1988 would give Brazil additional success as the team would win a total of six medals including their first ever gold in judo to Half-Heavyweight Aurelio Miguel Fernandez. This would open the doors to other judokas of Brazil as Brazil has won a total of 18 Olympic medals in judo including three gold. Brazil having the biggest Japanese diaspora outside of Japan may have a lot to do with it. Additional medals came in sailing, football (featuring greats Bebeto, Careca and Romario) and athletics. One noteworthy medalist was sprinter Robson da Silva. He’s considered to be the best South American sprinter ever. His bronze in the 200m in Seoul came just five days after running in the 100m dash: considered by most to be “the dirtiest race in Olympic history.” Robson was actually one of two with the most justifiable cases of being clean athletes. I like what he’s always said: “Sure I didn’t dope and I didn’t win all that much, but I sleep well every night.”

1992 would only be a case of three medals in three different sports but it was still a good showing for Brazil as it was their second Games where they returned home with two golds: in man’s volleyball and in judo. The volleyball gold would be key as it would pave the way for future success for the Brazilian team at the Olympics.

1996 AND THE BRAZILIAN BREAKTHROUGH

As Brazil’s economy would grow over time, so would their athletic prowess. Ever since the 1996 Games in Atlanta, the Brazilian Olympic team would always leave each of the last five Games with at least ten medals or more. In fact 70 of the 109 total medals Brazil has won before the Rio Games were won in the previous five Summer Olympic Games. Atlanta was the very first sign of the Brazilian sports boom. The nation won a best-ever total of 15 medals including 3 gold. The introduction of beach volleyball led to Brazil taking the top 2 spots in the women’s category. They also had continued success in sailing, judo, football (featuring Ronaldo) and swimming but they also won their first ever equestrian medals as well as their first medals ever won by female athletes.

Scheidt Grael
Sailors Robert Scheidt (left) and Torben Grael show off their gold medals from Athens 2004. They are Brazil’s most medaled athletes. Both men have won five medals each, including two gold.

2000 was a case where Brazil didn’t win a single gold medal but still left Sydney with a total of 12 medals. Success continued in swimming, track, volleyball, judo, equestrian, sailing and volleyball. They sure made up for their no-gold disappointment in Athens in 2004 with five golds of their ten medals: their most golds ever. Actually it was originally four golds but a bizarre doping situation led to five. In equestrian show jumping, Rodrigo Pessoa finished second to Ireland’s Cian O’Connor. However it was later revealed months later that the doping sample from O’Connor’s horse went missing and was finally tested in November of 2004 resulting in a positive test. That bumped Pessoa up to Olympic champion: Brazil’s first ever equestrian gold medalist. Bizarre but glad it was finally set straight. Another example of Brazilian sportsmanship came in the men’s marathon. Vanderlei de Lima was leading the race when out of nowhere, an Irish defrocked priest hounded him and disrupted his run. Fortunately de Lima was able to get back to running and finish third. When he received his bronze medal, he was also given the de Coubertin award for fair and courageous play.

2008 in Beijing saw their Olympic prowess taken another step further as they won three golds and a best-ever 16 medals. First-ever golds for Brazil came from swimmer Cesar Cielo Filho and long jumper Maurren Maggi in women’s athletics. This was also the first Olympics where both the men’s and women’s football teams won medals: silver for the women and bronze for the men. London 2012 was another increase in the medal haul with a best-ever 17 medals including three gold. The women’s volleyball team repeated as Olympic champions but the biggest gold-medal surprise came from gymnast Arthur Zanetti on the rings as he won Brazil’s first-ever gymnastics medal: gold on the rings. The team also won three medals in boxing–their first since 1968–and Yane Marques became the first Brazilian to win a modern pentathlon medal when she won silver.

A footnote to ad: Brazil has competed in every winter Olympics since the Albertville Games of 1992. Their best result is a ninth in snowboarding back in 2006.

No kidding Brazil wants to give their home country something to be proud of. They will field a team of 465 athletes in 29 sports and they hope to give Brazil its best-ever medal total. The men’s football team has brought Neymar–who was part of Brazil’s silver medal-winning team in 2012– on the squad. Marta is back on the women’s squad. And a unique situation in sailing where two of Torben Grael’s children–Marco and Martine– are competing in the sailing events.

As the athletes in Brazil compete in Rio de Janeiro, they will compete with a sense of pride. They will also compete having a set of heroes they’ve grown up admiring and idolizing and hopefully create new heroes for the next generation. The stage will be set.

DISCLAIMER: I know the Olympics have been going on for a week and a half and Brazil has won a lot of medals but I chose to exclude the results in Rio for the sake of keeping this blog ‘evergreen.’

WORKS CITED:

WIKIPEDIA: Brazil At The Olympics. Wikipedia.com. 2016. Wikimedia Foundation Inc.<Brazil At The Olympics>

WIKIPEDIA: Brazil At The 1932 Summer Olympics. Wikipedia.com. 2016. Wikimedia Foundation Inc.<Brazil at the 1932 Summer Olympics>

9.79: What Has Been Learned Since?

Ben Johnson taking the stand at the Dubin Inquiry in June 1989, eight months after testing positive for stanozolol at the Seoul Olympics.
Ben Johnson taking the stand at the Dubin Inquiry in June 1989, eight months after testing positive for stanozolol at the Seoul Olympics.

“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.

9.79: Has It Been Exactly 25 Years Ago?

Ben Johnson (right) beat Carl Lewis (left) in the heavily hyped Olympic final of the 100m dash. A shocking truth would be unraveled three days later.
Ben Johnson (6) beat Carl Lewis (3) in the heavily hyped 1988 Olympic final of the 100m. A shocking truth would be unraveled three days later.

“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.

THE AFTERMATH

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.

London 2012: A Games To Remember

So the seventeen days of Olympic action has ended. History was written in London. Some of these athletes’ dreams came true, some dreams had to be put on hold for another four years, and some died right there. Nevertheless they were a seventeen days that gave the world lots to cheer about.

MEMORABLE MOMENTS AND NAMES IN HISTORY

One of the unique things of these Olympic Games were that two of the biggest stars from the Beijing Games were back to thrill the world again. An aging Michael Phelps was back in London proving to the world he still has it. He left London with four gold and two silver, successfully defended his gold medal for the third straight time in two different events, set a career Olympic medals record with 22 over three Olympic Games, and ended his Olympic year as arguably the greatest Olympian of all time. Another great from Beijing, Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt, won the 100m, 200m and anchored Jamaica’s 4*100m relay to gold as he did back in 2008. He too solidified himself as one of the greatest Olympians of all time. It wasn’t just Bolt and Phelps who added more glory to their Olympic careers in London. There was the American beach volleyball team of Kerri Walsh and Misty May-Treanor who won gold for the third straight time. There was British cyclist Chris Hoy whose two gold medals at the Velodrome gave him a career total of six gold medals. No other cyclist has won more. Also British yachtsmen Ben Ainslie won gold for the fourth straight Olympics. Only one other sailor, Denmark’s Paul Elvstrom, has won as many yachting golds.

Even with greats adding to their legacy here in London, this was also the arena where great were born. American swimmer Missy Franklin won five medals, four of the m gold. American sprinter Allyson Felix won three gold medals. British distance runner Mo Farah dazzled the home crowd by achieving the 5000m-10000m double. American decathlete Ashton Eaton and British heptathlete Jessica Ennis gave brilliant wins. Right after the US won the women’s team event in gymnastics, it was American Gabby Douglas who won hearts and the all-around gold. Swimming wasn’t only Michael Phelps and Missy Franklin. American Ryan Lochte also provided some great rivalry for Phelps in the pool. The women’s swimming also saw double golds from China’s Ye Shiwen and the Netherlands’ Ranomi Kromowidjojo. Tennis made a double-winner out Serena Williams in both individual and doubles with her sister Venus. There were also brilliant team efforts in London too. China dominated badminton and table tennis while the Americans dominated basketball. China also won six out of the eight diving events. While the American women’s gymnasts were the clear winners, it was China again who was the class of the men’s field. And the football contest showcased the gold medal-winning brilliance of the Mexican men and the American women.

Despite all the sports action, one of the biggest attractions of these Games were the attendance of members of the royal family at events. The most notable were Prince William, Prince Harry and Kate Middleton. They were seen taking in the athletic action and cheering for Britain. Some of the most notable appearances of them were at the men’s team gymnastics tournament, the swimming finals where they saw Michael Phelps and Missy Franklin in action, the track cycling events where the British women’s pursuit team set a world record in front of them, and the equestrian competition where they cheered Duchess Zara Phillips to a team silver in the eventing competition. Her medal was placed around her neck by her mother Princess Anne: a former Olympic equestrian rider and a member of the International Olympic Committee.

As for medal totals, the most medaled male athlete of these games was once again Michael Phelps with six: four gold and two silver. The most medaled women were three swimmers–Austrailian Alicia Coutts and Americans Missy Frankin and Allison Schmitt– who won five medals each. The American team won the most medals with 104 as well as the most golds with 46. Next in line was China with a total of 88 medals, 38 of them gold. Russia was third in total medals with 82. However it was the host country of Great Britain with the third-most gold medals with 29 which I will elaborate on later in this article.

As for Canada, Canadian athletes won eighteen medals over eleven sports. The eighteen medals was the same medal total as in Beijing but Canada only won a single gold. Canada’s only gold medalist was trampolinist Rosie MacLennan. Canada’s other medals were also worthy of respect too. Both of Canada’s rowing eights teams took silver. Wrestler Tonya Verbeek regained her past winning form to take silver in her category. Canada’s female synchro diving pairs both won bronze. Christine Girard became Canada’s first female weightlifter to win a medal, a bronze. Swimmer Brent Hayden won bronze in the 100m freestyle in his third Olympics. Derek Drouin was a surprise bronze medalist in the men’s high jump. And it was Canada’s women’s football team that won the hearts of the country after their controversial semifinal loss against the Americans and their win in the bronze-medal game. There were even non-medallists like Jessica Zelinka, Damian Warner, Mary Spencer and Canada’s women’s gymnastics team who won the respect of the nation.

The Olympic Games here showed that inspiring a generation doesn’t strictly mean winning a gold medal. For the first time in London,  all Olympic sports had events for women or were mixed. Also every competing country sent female athletes with their delegation. This was especially victorious for women of Muslim nations as they could finally compete for their country. There was also individual achievements here in London too.  There was marathon  runner Guor Mariol from South Sudan. South Sudan was just formed as a nation one year ago and has not yet formed its own national Olympic Committee. Guor was given the option to compete for Sudan but refused. Because Sudan it is the country responsible for the genocide of two million of his people, including eight of Guor’s own brothers and sisters, he believed competing for Sudan would be a betrayal to his people.  The IOC agreed to have him compete as an Independent Olympic Athlete, one of four at these Games. His appearance could lead to a South Sudan team for the 2016 Olympics. There was South African double-leg amputee runner Oscar Pistorius who had only run in the Paralympics previously and won a long battle with the IAAF to run as an Olympic runner. He ran as part of South Africa’s relay team and in the men’s 400m event. He only made it to the semifinals in the individual 400m but the highlight was at the end as eventual Olympic champion Kirani James did a name tag exchange with him as a sign of respect. There was the American men’s 4*400m relay where the first runner Manteo Mitchell broke his fibula halfway through his run but still ran to the exchange to help the US qualify for the finals. In the finals, Bryshon Nellum who was shot in the leg three years earlier and was told he would never run again ran as part of the silver-medal winning team. He would be chosen as the American flag bearer at the closing ceremonies. And there was delight in the home crowd as British diving prodigy Tom Daley wanted to win a medal for his father who died one year earlier. Those in Britain and the diving world were well aware of the close relationship he had with his father whom wholeheartedly supported Tom during his lifetime. He faced a tightly competitive field in the men’s platform diving but won the bronze. You don’t have to win a gold to be a hero.

THE NEW POSSIBLE: NEW RECORDS SET

Have you been seeing all those ads from AT&T where they show a winning moment and a young athlete writes it as their goal followed by the tagline: “Here’s to the new possible?” The new possibles have been celebrated as new World Records and new Olympic Records countless times here in London.  Archery saw the world records fall in the ranking rounds of both the men’s individual and team tournaments.  Athletics saw the Olympic record broken in twelve events: four of them new world records. The most amazing had to be the American women’s 4*100 relay team breaking a 27 year-old world record held by East Germany by more than half a second. Cycling saw ten world records broken in four events. All but two were set by British cyclists. Shooting saw seventeen Olympic records and seven world records broken or equaled. Both Modern Pentathlon events saw new Olympic record totals set. Swimming saw the Olympic record fall in twenty events and the world record fall in eight events. The women’s events were the ones with the most change as only two events saw the old Olympic record still standing. Weightlifting saw nineteen Olympic records set, eight of them world records. They say records were made to be broken. Makes you wonder how many of those new records will be broken in 2016?

THE FIRST OF THEIR COUNTRY

Remember how I made mention in my segment of Botswanian sprinter Amantle Montsho that one of my favorite Olympic moments is when a country wins their first ever Olympic medal? Here in London, seven nations won their first ever Olympic medals here in London.  Botswana was one of them but it wasn’t Montsho; it was Nijel Amos who won silver in the men’s 800m run. Bahrain’s first ever medal was a bronze in the women’s 1500m run won by Maryam Yusuf Jamal. Montenegro’s women’s handball team won their country’s first medal, a silver. Guatemalan race walker Erick Barrondo brought his country on the medals table for the first time ever with a silver in the 20km walk.  The victory ceremony of the men’s heavyweight category in taekwondo saw Gabon’s flag raised for the first time ever at the Olympics for silver medalist Anthony Obame. Cyprus arrived on the medals podium for the first time ever thanks to sailor Pavlos Kontides winning silver in the Laser event. And finally the tiny Caribbean island of Grenada with a population of only 110,000 had an Olympic champion in 19 year-old sprinter Kirani James in the men’s 400m run. With that Grenada set a unique Summer Olympic record for most gold medals per population, beating The Bahamas in 1964 when they had a population of 130,000. The Winter Olympic record is another story. Anyways back to the focus of this segment, one of the reasons why I like seeing a country win their country’s first Olympic medals is because you know they will come home to their country a national hero. That’s the biggest example of the London Games motto “Inspire a generation” happening here. No doubt they’ll inspire their country’s children to excel like them.

HOST NATION PRIDE

The British Olympic Committee has existed possibly ever since there was an Olympic Games. However things changed in the late 90’s after the Atlanta Games of 1996 where Britain won a total of 15 medals and only one was gold. The Olympic Committee revamped itself as Team GB in 1999 and meant to unify the team as one body, irrespective of one athlete’s particular sport. It’s formula appeared to pay off as Team GB, had set targets of medal achievements in each sport at the London Olympics and a total medal target of at least 48 medals; one more than the total won in Beijing. That seemed a pretty high target considering Beijing had one of Britain’s biggest medal hauls ever. It actually turned out to be a very realistic target as Great Britain won a total of 65 medals including 29 golds in a total of 17 sports. It all started with a silver medal won by cyclist Lizzie Armistead in the Women’s Road Race and ended on closing day with pentathlete Samantha Murray winning silver in the women’s modern pentathlone event.  In between were loads of reasons for the host country to cheer, especially on Saturday the 4th when Britain won six golds on what will be known as ‘Super Saturday’.

One of the benefits of Team GB’s sport unity was the ability for Brits to excel better than ever in sports Britain was never much of a power in. Taekwondo had only one British medal in the past and here in London they had their first Olympic champion. Previously underrated tennis player Andy Murray won the men’s singles tournament and later won silver in the mixed doubles tournament. Britain won its very first triathlon medals here through the Brownlee brothers: Alastair taking gold and Jonathan taking bronze. British canoeists won more gold medals than ever. And the British gymnastics team here in London won a silver and three bronze; the same total of medals British gymnasts have won in all past Olympic Games combined. There were also some sports where Britain used to dominate in the past that saw a return to the dominance here in London. British boxers won medals in five of the thirteen categories including three wins. Britain’s equestrian riders won gold in three of the six events. And British sailors won medals in five categories including a gold medal for Ben Ainslie in the Finn class: his fourth consecutive.

However it was in the sports that Britain has consistently done best in over the years that saw their biggest successes. It was the sports of cycling, rowing and athletics that most gave the home country something to cheer about.  The GB cycling team that included greats like Chris Hoy and Bradley Wiggins always got the crowd cheering especially in the velodrome as they won twelve medals, eight of them gold. No other country did better in cycling. British rowers won the most medals winning in nine of the fourteen categories including four gold. Athletics saw huge success with four gold and six total medals but it was on ‘Super Saturday’ August 4th that Britain had three Olympic champions: Mo Farah in the men’s 10000m; Greg Rutherford in the long jump; and Jessica Ennis in the heptathlon. There hasn’t been that many athletics wins by a host country in a single day since the Los Angeles games of 1984. The only sport Britain fell short in was swimming where they targeted five medals at the least but wound up with only three. A far cry from the six medals won in Beijing. There were other sports where Britain made no target and no medals resulted. Even in soccer Britain’s teams lost their quarterfinals: the women to Canada and the men to South Korea via (what else?) penalty kicks. Nevertheless it was their biggest Olympics since 1908 and it gave the whole of Great Britain something to cheer about and a Games to be proud of.

OLYMPIC LOWLIGHTS

Even though these were an excellent Olympic Games, it’s not to say they weren’t without their problems. First was to do about their security. In the days leading up to the Games, the media made highlights of the security inadequacies. This lead the London Organizing Committee of the Olympic Games (LOCOG)  to bring in British troops from even as far away as Afghanistan to help. Another was to do about the use of Twitter by some athletes. The bad tweets got most of the attention but two athletes–a Greek triple-jumper and a Swiss soccer player–wrote tweets bigoted enough to get them taken off their team.

There were lowlights during the events. First was news about all the empty seats at some events. despite ensuring fans that tickets were all sold out. Even the non-ticketed qualifying rounds of archery held just before the opening ceremonies raised eyebrows. Another controversy was a man from the stands threw a bottle at the track just before the start of the men’s 100m final and was subsequently arrested. One boxing referee was dismissed from the Olympic for awarding a win to an Azerbaijani fighter who was knocked to the canvas six times by his Japanese rival. A women’s fencing semifinal was given extra time because of a clock malfunction. That allowed German fencer Britta Heidemann to win the match against South Korea’s Shin A-Lam. A-Lam protested with a one-hour sit-in to no avail. One scoreless judo quarterfinal led to the judges unanimously deciding the win on the Korean fighter at first then changing it to the Japanese fighter with no explanation.

However of all the lowlights outside of actual cheating, the two most notable came in the gymnastics events and women’s soccer. Gymnastics first  saw scoring problems first in the case of two scores–one by a Japanese gymnast in the team competition and another by American Aly Raisman in the balance beam final–leaving the individual and team out of the medals. Their country’s respective official immediately appealed the score in both cases and both were changed to a score that allowed the gymnasts to win their medals. Another case came when British gymnast Louis Smith and Hungarian Krisztian Berki were both given the same score in the pommel horse final. However Berki won the gold because of a higher execution score. This broke the hearts of both Smith and the British people especially since had Smith won the gold, he would have become Britain’s first-ever Olympic champion in gymnastics. No doubt gymnastics scoring will be debated and reassessed by the FIG in the years before the 2016 Olympics. And a woman’s soccer semifinal received a rare delay-of-game call against the Canadian goalkeeper which allowed an American player to get a penalty kick to tie the game. The American team won the semifinal and went on to win the gold medal. The Canadians were disheartened but not enough to win their bronze-medal match three days later.

CHEATER CHEATER

The biggest Olympic  lowlights are always the cheaters. Usually the Olympic cheaters that make the biggest news are often those that test positive for drugs. Here at these Olympics the cheaters that made the biggest news were the ones that cheated through different means. The biggest news came in the women’s doubles badminton tournament. Four teams deliberately lost in their preliminary bouts so they can get a more favorable position in the elimination round. When it was revealed, all four teams were disqualified. Also newsworthy was the stricter rules in sports such as the no-false-start rule which means even a single false start in swimming and athletics would get one disqualified. It almost happened in two swimming finals but both false-starters were allowed to compete as the starts were on technical malfunctions. Another case of stricter rules came when Canada’s men’s 4*100 relay team was third across the finish line but was disqualified of the race as one of their runners stepped on the lane’s line only once. In the past runners were allowed a maximum of three steps.

There were even some cases of cheating later admitted and cheating being questioned now. First was the swimming feat of China’s double-gold medalist Ye Shiwen. Her 400m Individual Medley win was set in world record time with her final 50m swum comparable to the time of the men’s winner Ryan Lochte. Despite the controversy, she tested negative in all of her drug tests. Another swimming shocker came in the men’s 100m breaststroke when South Africa’s Cameron van der Burgh won in world record time. He later admitted to using more than one allowable dolphin kick during the race. He was not disqualified. Britain may have provided some of the biggest highlights of the cycling competition but the Men’s sprint team provided a lowlight as member Philip Hindes crashed and the team was given a restart. Hindes claimed in an interview that he crashed deliberately after a slow start to get the restart for his team. He later retracted his statement and so far no action has been taken against him. And then there’s men’s 1500m run champion Taoufik Makhloufi of Algeria. On the day before his gold-medal run, he withdrew himself from the 800m heats after 200m. The IAAF disqualified him feeling he didn’t give an honest effort. He was later reinstated after providing a medical certificate showing that an ailment hampered his efforts. Whatever the truth is, Makhloufi will continue to be under suspicion. One thing about these incidents of potential disqualification is that it shows the sports feds need to get their acts together.

And then there are the positive drug tests. The IOC and the WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) have developed tougher doping rules over the last few years such as having half the competitors of the London Games, 6000 in total, being tested between the start of the Olympics and the end of the Paralympics. All medalists and fourth-place finishers will be tested. The Olympic anti-doping agency will test up to 400 samples a day for more than 240 banned substances. Samples will also be stored and tested over a time period of four year for in the case of additional substances added to the banned list. Even WADA set an ‘in-competition’ time starting July 16th and declared that any athlete can be tested during the in-competition time without notice. During the in-competition period, thirteen athletes from thirteen countries tested positive for banned substances and sent home with suspensions. The only Olympic medalist to test positive was women’s shot put champion Nazdeya Ostapchuk of Belarus. She tested positive for Methenolone and was stripped of her gold medal. New Zealand’s Valerie Adams, second-place finisher behind Ostapchuk, now has the gold medal. One thing about all this cheating is Canadian magazine Maclean’s wrote an article about it asking: “Whatever happened to sportsmanship?”

RIO 2016: A LOOK AHEAD

The next Summer Olympic Games will be held in Rio De Janeiro in 2016. This marks the first time ever a South American city will host an Olympic Games. There’s no doubt Brazil is hoping to use these Games to showcase themselves to the world. This comes at a busy time as Rio will also be facilitating to two more major events within the next four years: World Youth Day in 2013 and the World Cup in 2014.  These Olympics already have their own official motto: “Live your passion.” They will begin on August 5 and end on August 21. There are expected to be 304 events in 28 sports. There will be no new sports introduced to the Olympic program in Rio but there will be one making a comeback. Rugby will be making its Olympic return since it was last contested in 1924 although the Olympics will stage Rugby sevens instead of the Rugby union conducted in the past.

The city of Rio is planning on hosting most of the events within the greater city. There are four districts of Rio where the majority of facilities are planned: Deodoro, Maracana, Copacabana and Barra. Deodoro is planned to host most of the modern pentathlon events as well as whitewater canoeing and mountain biking. Copacabana is the perfect place planned to host events in rowing, canoeing, yachting, marathon swimming and beach volleyball. Barra will be a hub for contesting sports such as swimming, gymnastics, hockey, tennins, boxing and wrestling. Maracana will have the biggest hosting of events with the legendary Maracana stadium for football events and the ceremonies, Joao Havelange stadium for athletics, the Maracanazinho arena for volleyball and the Sambadrome which normally host Carnival will host the archery and marathon events.

Most of the events will be held in facilities that already exist like the Maracana, the Joao Havelange Stadium, the HSBC Arena, Pio Olympic Velodrome, the Maria Lenk Aquatics Centre and the multipavilion Riocentro. There are some temporary facilities planned strictly for the Olympic Games like the Copacabana stadium for beach volleyball, the Deodor Modern Pentathlon Park, an Olympic Hockey Center, an Olympic Hockey Park and a temporary pavillion at the Riocentro. There are only six new venues planned for these Games like the Olympic Aquatics Stadium, the Olympic BMX Centre, an Olympic Tennis Centre and an Olympic Training Centre consisting of four halls and a total seating capacity of 50,000. The only competition venues held outside Rio will be soccer stadiums in four different Brazilian cities.

As for the Brazilian team, Brazil’s team here in London won a total of seventeen medals including three golds in eight sports. That’s their biggest medal haul ever although the most golds they won were five back in 2004. Brazil is one country whose Olympic prowess has really grown in the last twenty years. The first Olympics where Brazil ever won ten or more medals was back in 1996 and the Brazilian team has left every Summer Olympics since with ten medals at the very least. There’s no doubt Brazil wants these Games to have their biggest medal haul ever. What they will have planned in preparation for their Olympic team for these Games will be decided and carried out gradually in the next four years.

The Olympic flame won’t be lit again until the Winter Games in Sochi in 2014. By now all the Olympians are either home or heading home. Each nation’s Olympic Committee will be taking home the one of the 204 pedals of the cauldron that has their country’s name on it. One has to agree the London Games gave a lot of great memories and once again brought the world together. The Olympic flame may be extinguished in London but the flame still burns in the hearts of the athletes. That’s what continues to make the Olympic Games so great. Its ability to unite the world, put on a show and inspire the young. The motto of the Games was “Inspire a generation” and you can be sure there were many children watching that were inspired here. Thank you London for a job well-done.

WORKS CITED:

WIKIPEDIA: 2012 Summer Olympics. Wikipedia.com. 2012. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2012_Summer_Olympics>

WIKIPEDIA: 2016 Summer Olympics. Wikipedia.com. 2012. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2016_Summer_Olympics>

WIKIPEDIA: Controversies at the 2012 Summer Olympics. Wikipedia.com. 2012. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Controversies_at_the_2012_Summer_Olympics>

WIKIPEDIA: Controversies at the 2012 Summer Olympics. Wikipedia.com. 2012. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Team_GB>

London 2012: Seven Canadians To Watch

 
Yesterday I gave a look at some Olympians to watch from around the world. Today I focus on Canadians. Canada ranks seventeenth on the all-time list of total Summer Olympic Medals with a total of 260 including 58 gold. Our most medaled Summer Olympics, both in golds and total, is the 1984 Los Angeles Games which was boosted by the boycott of Soviet-allied nations and allowed the team to take home 44 medals including 10 gold. In terms of fully-contested Olympics, our most medaled are the 1996 Atlanta Games with 22 and our most golden are the 1992 Barcelona Games with 7. Here in London, Canada has sent a team of 277 athletes in 24 sports. Canada has strong expectations for the team in London and the athletes have their own personal expectations. Sports Illustrated even predicted for Canada to win seventeen medals including two golds. Here are six Canadian athletes and one team to keep an eye on in London:
 
 -Adam van Koeverden – Canoeing: Kayakers are not necessarily Canada’s most celebrated athletes. Adam van Koeverden is one of the few. Interestingly enough he trains at a retreat with no plumbing or electricity. It must be doing something right. Back at the 2004 Olympics nothing was expected of him but he came away with a gold and a bronze. His medal wins were an upper for the Canadian team as they experienced a lot of disappointment in Athens. By 2008 he was the reigning 500m World Championships and was heavily favored to win both solo kayaking events for men. He was even Canada’s flag bearer for the opening ceremonies. The pressure must have got to him because he finished 8th in the 1000m and won silver in the 500m. 2011 saw him return to the title of World Champion, in the 1000m. Will he be all there at Dorney Lake? It will all be decided August 8th.
-Alexandre Despatie – Diving: Seems like just yesterday he was the 13 year-old prodigy that won the tower event at the 1998 Commonwealth Games or the 15 year-old from Sydney 2000 who finished fourth. Twelve years later he’s now a three-time World Champion, a two-time Olympic silver medalist and nearing the twilight of his career. However things took a turn for the scarier in June as he hit his head on the springboard while practicing an inward 3 1/2. He has since healed up and even reattempted that dive in practice two weeks ago with success. Already Sports Illustrated has him as diving’s underdog story. Does he have one last hurrah for us in London? Stay tuned.
-Jennifer Abel – Diving: As one Canadian diver’s legacy appears to be coming to an end, another appears to be starting. Jennifer Abel actually made her Olympic debut in Beijing just before her 17th birthday but her diving career has taken off greatly. She won two golds and a silver in the springboard events at the 2010 Commonwealth Games. She also won silver in 3m synchro teamed up with Canadian vet Emilie Heymans and bronze in 3m solo at the 2011 World Championships. Come London she will face challenges from China’s diver He Zi and Wu Minxia who both finished ahead of her in both events. But no matter where she finishes in London, it will all be to her advantage as the best of her is still yet to come.
-Mary Spencer – Boxing: Women’s boxing has gone from the sleazy novelty of ‘foxy boxing’ to a serious sport in the last decade. Here in London will be the first time women boxers will compete for Olympic medals. Canada’s best hopes rest on former World Champion Mary Spencer. The 27 year-old southpaw who’s of Ojibway heritage won her first World Middleweight Championship in 2005 at the age of 20. She has since won the World Champion title twice again in 2008 and 2010. However she lost in the Round of 32 at this year’s Worlds. London is the best place for her to regain her supremacy. Will she do it? Only time will tell.
-Catharine Pendrel – Mountain Biking: It seems like ever since Mountain Biking has been added to the Olympic program back in 1996, there’s always been one Canadian woman after another amongst the best in the world. It all started with Allison Sydor winning silver in 1996, then Marie-Helene Premont winning silver in 2004. Now the torch has been passed to Catharine Pendrel and she has quite a resume. She finished 4th back in Beijing but her career has taken off ever since with winning the 2010 World Cup series and last year’s World Championships. She recently won the Olympic test event at Essex’s Hadleigh Farm. Sports Illustrated even predicted her as the one to win the Olympic Mountain Biking event. Will she do it? August 11th is the day for her to deliver.
-Carol Huynh – Wrestling: Carol was the first Canadian to win gold at the Beijing Olympics and she could do it again here. She has won World Championship medals since 2000 and she has won gold at the Commonwealth and Pan Am Games. However she missed out on the medals at last year’s Worlds. Nevertheless she has been preparing well and is confident her knee injury has healed. Sports Illustrated preditcted three Canadian women to win medals in wrestling and she’s one of them. Mark your calendar August 8th.
-Canada’s Track and Field team: Canada is not known as a track and field country. In fact it was even pointed in a recent news article that there are many third world countries that have bigger fanfare and a bigger investment in the sport than Canada and even better overall showings at World Championships. Nevertheless Canada has consistently produced Olympic medalists, Olympic champions and even greats like sprinters Percy Williams and Donovan Bailey. Who does Canada have for this year? Canada’s best chances for the men come from shot putter Dylan Armstrong who won the silver at last year’s Worlds. However his best put this season has been surpassed by seven other putters. He will have to throw a seasonal best if he wants to win a medal. Canada’s best chances for the women come from heptathlete Jessica Zelinka. She has also qualified for the 100m hurdles event but it’s the heptathlon that she specializes in. She finished 5thback in Beijing and at this year’s Olympic trials she delivered a personal best total that’s currently the 4th best in the World. If she’s on the ball in London, she could win a medal. And don’t count out any of the lesser-favored Canadians. Anything can happen in the heat of Olympic competition.
 
And there you have it. Six athletes and one team from Canada to look out for in London. When the Games begin the night of Friday July 27th, there will be seventeen days of thrilling moments, national pride and history in the making. An event like this that only comes around every four years is definitely worth being a part of.
 

London 2012: Fourteen To Watch

On the evening of Friday July 27, 2012, the cauldron of the London Olympics, the Games of the XXX Olympiad, will be lit and over ten thousand athletes from over 200 countries will compete for glory in their respective sport over these seventeen days. London will become the first city ever to host three Olympic Games: the first two being in 1908 and 1948. Here are ten athletes from around the world, two from the host country and two teams of these Games who are worth keeping a close eye on:

-Michael Phelps/USA – Swimming: Talk about a legendary career. Olympic debut in 2000 at the age of 15. Six golds and two bronzes in 2004. A record eight golds in 2008. Now London is the big finale. He’s just three medals away from breaking the record for most total Olympic medals. He also has four chances to become the first male swimmer to threepeat in an individual swimming event. Unstoppable? Maybe not. Teammate Ryan Lochte broke Phelps’ 400 IM record last year and even beat him in that event at Olympic trials. Plus there could be other younger swimmers from around the world chasing him down. It will all be decided in the London Aquatic Centre.

-Usain Bolt/Jamaica – Track and Field: Remember back in Beijing Usain was the sprinting star winning the 100, 200 and anchoring Jamaica’s 4*100 relay? All in world record time? Incredibly Usain has since broke them all. No kidding he’s been the most exciting thing in track and field since Carl Lewis. He could do it again in London. But he faces a formidable challenge from his own younger teammate Yohan Blake who currently has the year’s fastest 100 and 200 times. Plus don’t count Americans Justin Gatlin and Tyson Gay out, nor sprinters from Trinidad or St. Kitts.

-Amantle Montsho/Botswana – Track and Field: One of my favorite Olympic moments is when an athlete wins their country’s first ever Olympic medal. There are eighty countries competing in London that have never won an Olympic medal. Botswana is one of them but that could change. This will be Montsho’s third Olympics and she has progressed from the 400m heats in 2004 to 8th in the 400 final in 2008 to being crowned World 400m Champion last year. She still appears strong in the 400 this year as she has run the 400 four times under 50 seconds and even set a personal best a month ago. Winning a medal will not come easy as three other runners–two Russians and American Sanya Richards–have run faster times this year. Nevertheless if she’s all there in London, she could just make Botswanian Olympic history.

-Elena Isinbaeva/Russia: Track And Field: She has established herself as possibly the greatest female pole vaulter ever. She has won two gold medals and has set 30 world records including two at the Olympics. Nevertheless her career since Beijing has had some noticeable chokes: no-heighting at the 2009 world Championships final, fourth at the 2010 World Indoor championships, sixth at last year’s Worlds. 2012 has seen a return to her winning ways as she won the World Indoor Championships in March and even set a new world indoor record of 5.01m. She has only competed in one outdoor competition this year but it was two weeks ago and she won with an impressive 4.75m. It’s clear that in London the only person that can defeat Elena is Elena. It will all be decided in Olympic Stadium whether she threepeats or if she defeats herself.

-Caster Semenya/South Africa – Track and Field: She burst on the scene in 2009 at 18 showing the world her athletic talent in the 800m including a World Championship win. However she received more attention that year over her gender being questioned to the point the IAAF, athletics’ governing body, had to conduct gender tests on her. Caster found them both humiliating and invasive. She was eventually cleared by the IAAF but wasn’t allowed to resume competition until July 2010. The controversy has since died and Caster has continued running and even finished 2nd at last year’s Worlds. Nevertheless her country of South Africa has always stood beside her even during the heaviest of controversy and she has even been designated as South Africa’s flagbearer for the opening ceremonies. Many track experts believe she has what it takes to win but the 800m has a tough field. Could she prevail? Only time will tell.

-Carmelita Jeter/USA – Track and Field: Usually 32 is seen as the age when it’s time for a sprinter to retire. For Carmelita, it’s the age in which her sprinting career is finally taking off and could just reach her peak. Already she qualified for her first ever Olympic team. She has had world-class talent for years even finishing third in the 100m at the 2007 Worlds but she had a disastrous Olympic trials the following year filing to make the team despite being one of the favorites. In the four years since she’s become a faster runner and a better competitor. She would win bronze again at the 2009 Worlds and the 2011 Worlds gave her 100m gold, 200m silver and 4*100 relay gold. This year’s Olympic trials were better as she won the 100 and finished second in the 200. She already has the second-fastest 100m time in the world this year with defending Olympic champion Shelly-Anne Fraser the only other runner with a faster time. Jeter not only faces rivalry from her in both events but Jamaican triple Olympic champion Veronica Campbell-Brown who won the 200m at last year’s Worlds and her teammate Allyson Felix who has won 200m silver in 2004 and 2008. Whatever the situation, London will be now more than ever for her.

-Ashton Eaton/USA – Track and Field: The United States has consistently turned out decathlon champion after decathlon champion at the Olympics: eleven in total. At first it appeared Trey Hardee would become the next American to win Olympic gold in decathlon after winning the 2009 and 2011 world Championships. However teammate Ashton Eaton, who finished second to Hardee at the 2011 Worlds, had a surprise for him at the Olympic Trials. He won the Trials and broke the world record by 13 points. The Eaton/Hardee rivalry should prove to be exciting as two teammates being the two best in the world competing for gold. The winner will be decided two weeks from now.

 -Mariel Zagunis/USA – Fencing: When you think of fencing and the USA, you don’t think of any greats, do you? Well Mariel could be just that. She’s already only the second American fencer ever to win Olympic gold and she did it in the saber category twice in 2004 and 2008. Both times she was not the favorite. This time she is the favorite being ranked #1 in the world but she’s not invincible. Since Beijing she has won her first World Championship medals: saber gold in both 2009 and 2010. She however lost her title at the 2011 Worlds to Russian Sofiya Velikaya. She also faces challenges in London from other Russian fencers and Ukrainians like Olha Kharlan. If she does win in London, she will make history by becoming only the second fencer to achieve an Olympic threepeat in an individual event. History in the making? It’s all in Mariel’s hands.

-Marta/Brazil – Soccer: It’s interesting how women’s soccer has been growing only in the last ten years or so. Women didn’t get their own World Cup until 1991. women didn’t compete in the Olympics until 1996. Since then the improvements have been made not just in North America and Europe but South America too. Even Brazil has a star that has been called the ‘female Pele’ and her name is Marta. She showed huge promise in football at a young age but would come of age at 16 in 2002 when she was selected to be on Brazil’s national team. Since then she has received major accolades such as two Olympic silver medals, runner-up at the 2007 World Cup and crowned FIFA World Female Footballer of the year for five years straight. She and the Brazilian team want to win and London but they face stiff challenges from Japan, Sweden and the USA who want to win their third-straight Olympic title. nevertheless they want to improve from their quarterfinal ouster at last year’s World Cup. The game’s the thing in London.

-Daba Keita/Mali – Taekwondo: Another country that has never won an Olympic medal is Mali. Daba Kaita looked like the one to win Mali’s first ever medal after winning the heavyweight title at the 2007 World Championships. However he was eliminated in the quarterfinals in Beijing and the president of Mali went as far as calling it a ‘painful day for Mali.’ Since Beijing the 6’8″ Keita successfully defended his World title in 2009. He was dealing with a knee injury in 2011 and couldn’t compete at the Worlds that year. Nevertheless Keita believes he is ready. He considers himself a smarter fighter than he was at Beijing. He has been coached in the United States since 2006 through an Olympic Solidarity program and he hopes for it to pay off in London. Even though he hasn’t been too active on the taekwondo scene in the past year, Keita could surprise his opponents and make Olympic history for Mali in London.

 TWO FOR THE HOST COUNTRY:

-Tom Daley/Great Britain – Diving: For the record Great Britain has never won a diving gold medal at the Olympics. Six medals but never gold. Tom Daley burst on the world scene in 2008 by winning the tower event at the 2008 European Championships just before turning 14. He would be the ‘teddy bear’ of the British team of the Beijing Olympics and would go on to finish 7th in individual tower and 8th in synchro tower. Since then the precocious diving prodigy has had his ups and downs. He had a stellar 2009 that included a World Championship win in tower at the age of 15. An injurious 2010 ended on a good note as he won two golds at the Commonwealth Games. 2011 however was the hardest year. He had to deal with injury, learning new dives and the death of his father. The difficulties he faced showed at the World Championships that year as he lost his World tower title finishing 5th. 2012 has seen a new Tom Daley as he has been performing consistently even winning a World Cup meet and returning as European Champion. All eyes of Britain will be on him as he has beenone of the most iconic advertized images leading up to the London Games. He could lift the hearts of the nation like Cathy Freeman in 2000, Enrico Fabris in 2006 and the Canadian hockey teams of 2010. Or he could break their hearts like Konstandinos Kenteris in 2004 or Liu Xiang in 2008. It’s an awful big gamble for an 18 year-old. Nevertheless it will all be decided August 11th.

-Beth Tweddle/Great Britain – Gymnastics: Diving isn’t the only sport where Britain wants to win its first gold here. Gymnastics is another sport and Britain’s only women’s medal is a team bronze back in 1928 when women’s gymnastics was contested for the first time. Beth Tweddle looks like just the one to change that. She has been winning World Championship medals since 2003 but Olympic glory has always seemed elusive to her. 2004 was a disappointment. 2008 she finished fourth in the uneven bars but the two Chinese gymnasts who finished ahead of her have been under suspicion of being under the age limit and still remains unsolved. Since Beijing she has become a tougher competitor. She won the floor gold at the 2009 Worlds and won uneven bars gold at the 2010 Worlds. The 2011 Worlds were a tough event for her as she fell off the bars in qualifying and went out of bounds during the floor finals. Nevertheless she has proved she is ready for London as she won the uneven bars at a key international gymnastics meet and even increased the difficulty on her dismount with an extra full twist. Will she finally do it in London? It will all be decided in the Millennium Dome.

 AND TWO TEAMS TOO:

-Romanian Women’s Gymnastics Team: This could be the triumph of the underdogs. Now I know what you’re thinking: “Underdogs? Romania’s gymnasts?” Yes. The 2011 World Championships were the first since 1974 in which the Romanian women failed to win even a single medal. That’s awfully odd coming from a country that introduced Nadia to the world and has shelled out countless world and Olympic Champions. Since then Romania has worked to get their gymnasts into winning ways. They field a team that includes 2004 three-time Olympic Champion Catalina Ponor coming out of retirement, 2008 Olympic floor champion Sandra Izbasa and 2010 World beam champion Ana Porgras. The plan has worked well as the team won the European Championships over 2011 Worlds silver-medalists Russia by less than a point. They even won three of the four individual event. No doubt they’re doing everything right in their comeback but they still will face challenges from Russia, host country Great Britain with possibly their best team ever, and the 2011 World Champions the United States featuring top competitors like Jordyn Wieber, Ali Reisman and Gabby Douglas. Winning will come with a fight in London.

-Cuban Boxing Team: No kidding Cuba wants to rebound after not winning a single boxing gold in Beijing 2008. Yeah, you’re probably thinking what I thought: “Cuba? No boxing golds? How can that be?” Ever since amateur boxing has gone from three three-minute round to four two-minute rounds, the Europeans have excelled while the American countries have struggled. Since Beijing amateur boxing has made a return to three three-minute rounds and Cuba is on a comeback trail. Boxers Lazaro Alvarez and Julio Cesar la Cruz won at the 2011 World Championships. Cuba’s hoping to return back to their Olympic glory days of the 70’s and 90’s and London could lead them on the right path.

 And there you have it. Twelve athletes and two teams to keep a close eye on in London. My list of Canadians to watch will come tomorrow.In the meantime check this out below. This is my one and only souvenir of the London Games. I spent so much on souvenirs of the Vancouver 2010 Games I decided only one of London.

 

UPDATE: I did ten more to watch.

Movie Review: Moneyball

We are all told at one point in our lives that we can no longer play the children’s game. We just don’t know when that’s gonna be. Some get told at 18, some get told at 40, but we’re all told.

I don’t know about you but I don’t understand the whole deal about sports and the dollar. One thing I do know is that the mix of sports and money has sure changed professional sports in the last 40 years. It’s the reason why a franchise stays in a city or moves. It’s the reason why stadiums and arenas are now named after corporations. It secures broadcasting rights and merchandising marketing rights. It’s led to numerous league strikes; two of which either prevented a season from happening or ended a season prematurely. Most of all, it has the biggest bearing on how far up the league a team excels. Major League Baseball player-turned manager Billy Beane was the subject of the book Moneyball on his experience as a manager and introducing the use of sabermetrics in managing the Oakland Athletics team of 2002. It’s been made into a movie starring Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill and Philip Seymour Hoffman and it’s worth seeing.

The movie begins just after the Oakland Athletics were eliminated from World Series play in the 2001 American League Division Series by the New York Yankees; a team with three times the money as the A’s. After losing its three star players to teams with bigger money, general manager Billy Beane tries to assemble a winning team with Oakland’s limited budget but is irritated with his scouts’ decision making. Billy does have a personal issue with baseball scouts. When he was 18, he was scouted out as a phenomenal talent and was signed up with MLB, foregoing a promising college education. His career as an MLB player didn’t pan out and his promise was never realized. After retiring from baseball having played his last game with the A’s in 1989–ironically the last year the A’s won the World Series–Beane became GM of the team years later.

Upon visiting the Cleveland Indians, he meets Peter Brand, an economics grad from Yale with radical ideas in scouting baseball players but is very inexperienced with the business of Major League Baseball. Billy is so impressed with Pete’s thinking and choosing–including how Pete would draft Billy– he hires Pete as assistant GM. Pete’s assessment of players via sabermetrics, statistical analysis of players, and his ability of noticing qualities in players most MLB scouts overlook impresses Beane and helps him make some good player choices. However the scouts at the A’s and manager Art Howe are unimpressed with their use of sabermetrics and believe it’s effectiveness is trumpted by team play on the field. Despite it all, Beane has hope in Pete’s influence on his choices.

The beginning of the 2002 season does not look well. Oakland finds itself in the lower rankings at the early part of the season. Mostly it’s because Howe’s roster decisions conflict with that of Beane and Brand. Even as the A’s find themselves in last place in their Division, Brand still believes his prediction that the A’s will make a huge turnaround in July. This comes as a problem as Howe is still stubborn in his choices. This leads Beane to make tough trading choices for his more struggling players while Howe favors. Beane even gets Brand to tell a player he’s traded.

Now with the new set-up happening in Beane’s favor, we do see a turnaround. The A’s start winning, winning and winning. After winning their 19th straight game, they’re poised to break an MLB record for longest winning streak. One thing Beane notices is that whenever he’s at an A’s game, it’s bad luck for the team. This is the first game of the streak he attends. They have an 11-0 lead when suddenly things go wrong. Error after error happen and the game goes into extra innings. Nevertheless the miracle happens and the streak record is there’s. But it doesn’t stop there. The A’s find themselves back into the running for the World Series playing the Minnesota Twins in the ALDS. They hope it’s not a repeat of what happened to them against the Yankees the year earlier. This also appears critical since this could be whether Beane is kept on as the A’s GM. The game doesn’t go as expected and the aftermath doesn’t either as Beane rejects an offer from the Red Sox to stay with the A’s. I’ll wait for you all to see the movie to find out how much the BoSox offered Beane.

Without a doubt the biggest theme in the movie is money and how it’s changed the sport forever. It plays a role in how it makes certain teams excel further than others. It plays a role in how new players are selected and often enough it’s about their marketability instead of skill. When I saw that scene at the beginning when Oakland’s scouts are choosing players based on image, I asked: “Since when did playing sports become showbiz?” It plays a role in how players are hired, traded and terminated. It even tempts young players, like Billy himself back in 1979, into making an all-or-nothing decision where only time decides if it’s the right choice or not. Sometimes it pans out and sometimes, like in Billy’s case, it’s the deal with the devil. It even causes a power struggle between the managers and the coaches. Often the biggest team issues are more off the field than on the field.

As much as the mix of sports and money is the predominant theme of the movie, it’s also trying to introduce something new into Major League Baseball. Now Major League Baseball has to be the sports league most reluctant to change. While every other baseball league uses aluminum bats, MLB is still strictly wood-only. Drug testing was only introduced in recent years. Even decades ago, video relays and the lights at Wrigley Field caused huge debate. Now for Billy and Pete to introduce sabermetrics via computer into use on their team, even that comes into question with the men with traditional mindsets. I’m sure sabermetrics has attempted to make its way in before even without computers but it never really left much of an impact. Even after it helps the A’s break the winning streak record, it’s still debated after the A’s were eliminated from World Series play. Eventually it does become accepted by some, but not in a way expected.

Another theme that gets overlooked in this movie is about personal relations in such a cutthroat business. Billy has to be a cutthroat fiery worker if he’s to be a manager of a Major League Baseball team. Nevertheless in this fierce business, he’s able to befriend Pete. Interesting since Billy is fierce and cutthroat while Pete is shy and reserved. The movie is also about how Billy comes off as a father to his daughter. You can tell how much of a bond that means to him.

The best quality of the movie is how it’s able to make a story that’s very smart very winning on screen. It’s able to take a very intelligent and very popular topic and create a story about it that’s able to entertain audiences and keep them in suspense. It’s able to have an ending that’s different from your typical Hollywood ending and still come off well. Scriptwriters Steve Zaillan and Aaron Sorkin did an excellent adaptation to make a story thrilling with unexpected turns. Bennett Miller also did an excellent job of direction. Mychael Danna delivered and excellent accompaying score. However the movie’s best quality is its acting.  Brad Pitt did a very good job in paying a role that wasn’t your typical Brad Pitt role. Jonah Hill was also excellent in a role that was different from the ‘big goofball’ roles he’s been known for. Philip Seymour Hoffman again becomes the character in his latest role and again pulls it off excellently. It’s this type of work that has to make Moneyball the best baseball movie in years.

Moneyball is definitely this fall out-of-leftfield surprise winner. Even if you’re not a baseball fan, it will open your eyes about sports and actually get you hoping for the A’s. Even if you don’t like baseball, or movies about it, you’ll find something to like about it.