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Friday 15 December 2017

Insight into Olympic drugs storm is pure gold

The Dirtiest Race in History, by Richard Moore (Bloomsbury, 2012)

THE spine-tingling Olympic 100m final in Seoul in 1988 remains one of the best - and worst - moments in athletics.

Against a strong field, including his arch rival Carl Lewis, Ben Johnson explodes out of the blocks and dominates the race, scorching to an incredible new World Record of 9.79 seconds.

Richard Moore's book The Dirtiest Race in History captures the moment and provides the context for events leading up to the race and the fallout that followed.

Moore's research also gives us an insight into the two key protagonists; Ben Johnson, the impulsive and passionate Jamaican-born Canadian, and Carl Lewis, the contrived and cultured 'all-American' athlete.

Moore is not judgmental and it's easy to identify with Johnson; the shy and stuttering underdog.

He and those around him just wanted him to go faster and believed that the other athletes were taking drugs, so they were just trying to be as competitive as possible.



VILLAIN

He is depicted as neither villain nor victim; merely a competitor. But there is the clear reality that he could not have achieved the times that he did without assistance.

As difficult as Carl Lewis was to catch on the track; Moore found him similarly difficult to track down to be interviewed.

Lewis's "sculptural perfection" as described in Sports Illustrated, with all his grace and speed still couldn't stop the "Carl-bashing". The account is well organised and offers further detail into the tension between Ben Johnson and Carl Lewis.

Moore captures the politics, drugs and personalities that dominated professional athletics in the build up and aftermath of the 1988 Seoul Olympics.



MALIGN

He manages to get plenty of feedback from journalists and athletes who often malign Lewis who, looking to be the 'Michael Jackson' of athletics, endured labels of 'coke freak' and 'flying faggot'.

Nowadays, with appearance money and endorsements, professional athletes have the capability to earn impressive huge sums of money.

Inevitably, when striving for the competitive edge, sporting ideals can be compromised.

The contrast between amateur and professional sport is emphasised when Jesse Owens, now working in a dry cleaners, is interviewed by Moore. Compare his situation to that of his modern counterpart Usain Bolt, exceptional as he is, and the multi-million dollar deals that he attracts.

The corruption goes well beyond individual athletes using drugs.

The battle continues today with new drugs or masking agents and Moore emphasises the idea that the chemists trying to detect the drugs are always playing ''catch-up'.

The title, The Dirtiest Race in History, doesn't really work for me, but the content definitely does. It's informative and interesting and for anyone who has watched the race or has any interest in sport, especially athletics, it's excellent.

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