SEOUL - Some people remember historic events by those mundane activities they are involved in when the news arrives. For me, it was breakfast with a teammate. We were plowing through watery eggs and greasy bacon when one of our U.S. coaches approached.
"You heard any news this morning?" he asked, eyes twinkling."Nope," I replied in mid-bite, expecting word of a North Korean invasion.
"Ben tested positive," he said.
"What?" we said in unison.
"Ben flunked his sex test," said our informant.
"You mean his drug test?" I asked. The sex test is administered to female athletes to make sure of their gender - believe me, it is necessary for some. The thought of Ben Johnson being a woman made me laugh.
"Yeah, the drug test, he tested positive and they took away his medal. Just thought you'd like to know," the coach said with a smile and walked away.
When I left the cafeteria and stepped into the blinding morning sun I was suddenly aware of reporters and film crews milling about. A man with his hands in his pockets and a strong English accent asked if I'd heard the news of Johnson and how did I feel about it. Not sure that I was ready to give an interview at that hour of the morning, particularly to a member of the British press who hadn't identified himself as a journalist and who was being obviously sneaky, I gave some neutral answer and continued on my way. But not before he'd copied my name from my I.D. tag. Anciently, bearers of bad news were put to death; today they're award-winning journalists.
Later, as I went to watch Greg Louganis win his second gold medal in diving, I was stopped by two camera crews and questioned on the controversy. When I got back from diving, Carol Lewis, Carl's sister and a long jumper on the U.S. team, was sitting outside our building reading the paper. Extras from the Korea Herald were being distributed throughout the village.
Two pages were packed with articles on Johnson, bearing the bold headline, "Ben Johnson Stripped of Gold for Dope; Medal Goes to Lewis." I asked Carol what Carl had said when they'd talked that morning by phone. "He didn't say anything; he didn't have a chance, I was talking too fast," she said. Sisters will be sisters.
By Tuesday afternoon the shock of the story had faded and already jokes were starting to circulate: 1) Ben Johnson was stopped at the airport and asked if he was taking any gold out of the country; 2) Johnson is a has Ben; 3) Canadian press were going to run the headline, "Jamaican Sprinter Stripped of Gold Medal."
By Tuesday evening, the Johnson story was old news and members of the Canadian Olympic team were actually seen outside their apartments again.
Wednesday, a faltering Canadian 5,000-meter runner who failed to qualify for the final blamed the Johnson incident for totally demoralizing him. In an Olympics in which many feared terrorism, it's ironic that perhaps the most potent terrorism is one self-imposed by the athletes.