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Drug Testing Scandals: Olympic Sprint Controversies


Numerous athletes have been disqualified for taking performance-enhancing substances since drug testing began at the 1968 Olympics. The biggest names to date are Canadian Ben Johnson and American Marion Jones.

The Jamaican-born Johnson, who owned the world 100-meter record prior to the 1988 Games, broke the tape in the 100 at Seoul in what would’ve been a new world record time of 9.79 seconds. But his post-race drug test revealed evidence of an anabolic steroid and he was disqualified, giving the gold medal to Carl Lewis. Johnson's previous world record, set in 1987, was also rescinded. After serving a suspension, Johnson returned to the track but never reached his previous levels of success. He received a lifetime ban after another failed drug test in 1993.

Fifteen years after the Seoul Olympics, a second controversy arose from the 100-meter race. In 2003 the U.S. Olympic Committee's former director for drug control, Dr. Wade Exum, revealed that Lewis had tested positive for small amounts of three banned stimulants at the 1988 U.S. Olympic Trials. The U.S. Olympic Committee neither banned Lewis from the Seoul Games nor released the test results publicly, ruling that his drug use was inadvertent and that the low levels discovered were not performance-enhancing. The levels of stimulants found in his test were less than 10 micrograms per milliliter.

Lewis didn’t deny the test results after they became public in 2003, but noted that he was treated the same as other U.S. athletes in similar positions.

"Everyone was treated the same, so what are we talking about? I don't get it," Lewis told the media after Exum’s revelations. Lewis, who received a warning following the positive tests in 1988, also denied that the stimulants he took were performance-enhancing.

The International Olympic Committee didn’t review the situation because its three-year statute of limitations had expired. Lewis also won the long jump gold in 1988.

Marion Jones won five medals in the 2000 Olympics, finishing first in the 100 meters, 200 meters and the 4 x 100-meter relay. She won bronze medals in the long jump and the 4 x 400-meter relay. In 2004 she placed fifth in the long jump at Athens. Jones was caught up in the BALCO scandal and eventually admitted to using performance enhancing drugs, beginning in 2000. In 2007, the International Olympic Committee disqualified her from all of her Olympic events from 2000 and 2004. She returned all five of her medals.

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