After five days of testimony about steroid use by Ben Johnson, the sprinter's coach says it's time to admit that illegal substances are pervasive in the top levels of international competition.
"We're awash in a sea of denials," coach Charlie Francis said Tuesday during testimony before the Canadian commission investigating drugs and athletics. "People have to recognize what's going on out there, admit the levels of performance are not possible without performance-enhancing drugs and get on with the process of trying to make some changes."Francis has traced the decision to try steroids for Johnson to 1981 and said they were used to within weeks of the 1988 Olympics. The sprinter was stripped of his gold medal after a world record 9.79-second 100-meter dash because he tested positive for steroids.
But the coach concluded the sensational details of steroid use by Johnson and 12 other Canadian athletes for nearly a decade by saying that the only explanation for the positive test at Seoul was sabotage.
Meanwhile, an Edmonton businessman has offered $10,000 to the person he believes spiked Johnson's drink in Seoul - provided the person testifies at the inquiry.
Hugh Burgess says he believes a story by Francis that a "Mr. X" slipped steroids into Johnson's drink after his record-setting run.
"I'm saying the mystery man at the Olympics or whoever he was that would have had access to Ben's drinking substances should make himself available to the inquiry and give his side of the story," Burgess said. "It would prove that on that day Ben was the fastest man in the world. It would prove he did it legally."
Francis said stanozolol, the substance for which Johnson tested positive, was last used in the spring 1987 training period, long before it could have been detected by the test after the race last Sept. 24.
Francis said repeatedly that the decision to use steroids despite their ban was made because of the need to stay competive at the top levels of international performance where the prohibited substances are omnipresent.
He said, however, that it is a misconception to believe that Johnson was a chemical creation whose success can be dismissed as a product of steroids.
"Anabolics played a role, as they did with his competitors," Francis said. "I believe he was on a level playing field ... and he was winning.
"He is the best sprinter of all time, I'm convinced of that."
The coach is the first witness to appear at the track and field hearings called by the commission. Johnson, who maintains he never knowingly used illegal drugs to enhance his performance, is among some 30 witnesses who will appear in later weeks.
Francis, as he ended the direct testimony portion of his appearance, said the chairman of the Canadian Track and Field Association agreed to try to give him advance warning if his agency instituted random drug testing before the Olympics.
The official, Jean-Guy Ouellette, outside the hearing room, denied the allegation. And as cross-examination of Francis started, association lawyer Roger Bourque said Ouellete would deny it in his testimony as well.