Ben Johnson doc “9.79*” and the 1988 controversy

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After witnessing Usain Bolt run 9.58, 9.63, and 9.69 in the 100m, and seeing six other men dip below the 9.80 mark since Beijing four years ago, it’s becoming more and more difficult to remember a time when just breaking 10 seconds was an incredible feat.

But before the 1988 Seoul Games, 9.83 was the benchmark, set by Canadian specimen Ben Johnson who pumped his imposing frame to victory at the ’87 world championships in Rome. A year later, convicted of doping and stripped of his gold medal, he was made an example and a pariah by the IOC.

Johnson’s story is told in the documentary “9.79*,” premiering Tuesday at 8pm EDT on ESPN.  But the film is really the story of two men: Johnson and American hero Carl Lewis, both of whom – the film hints – used every bit of human will and scientific assistance to fight for the title of “worlds fastest man.”

And while it’s Johnson and his performance-enhanced 9.79 that are once again clearly under the microscope, it’s Lewis’s bitter protest, even as he now holds the event’s gold medal nearly 25 years later, that stands out in stark contrast to Johnson’s blunt honesty. After all, Johnson has nothing more to hide.

Director Daniel Gordon does an excellent job of putting both facts and rumors on the table and letting the two men speak for themselves. Then he adds the important context by interviewing doctors, coaches, managers, IOC lab techs, and the other six finalists from the ’88 race, and puts together a Ken-Burns-esque documentary that is arguably the best, most cinematic of ESPN’s “30 for 30″ series to date.

After all is said, Gordon, neither prosecutor nor defender, leaves us to be the jury. We’ll never know if Lewis doped or if Johnson was sabotoged, but we can lean with help from the film, which details how Lewis tested positive for three stimulants at the ’88 U.S. Trials before the USOC deemed it an “inadvertent positive.”

For now, Lewis lives on in the record books as track’s most decorated Olympian. Johnson is just a cheater. We know it’s an accurate tag, but we’re not sure it’s one he should wear alone.

Katie Ledecky leads loaded 200m freestyle final at nationals

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Katie Ledecky easily had the top time in the 200m freestyle heats at the USA Swimming National Championships on Wednesday morning, setting up a loaded final at night.

Ledecky, already qualified for worlds in the 800m and 1500m frees, swam 1:55.87 on Wednesday morning in Indianapolis.

She’s joined in the final by Olympians Melanie Margalis (1:57.27), Leah Smith (1:57.61) and Simone Manuel (1:58.00) and Mallory Comerford (1:58.39), the surprise 100m free winner Tuesday night.

USA Swimming Nationals, part of the TeamUSA Summer Champions Series, presented by Comcast, determines the U.S. team for the world championships in Budapest next month. The top two per individual event are in line to make the team, plus up to the top six in the 100m and 200m frees for relays.

Wednesday finals are at 6 p.m. ET. NBCSN, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app will air coverage from 7-8 p.m.

SWIM NATIONALS: Broadcast Schedule | Event Schedule/Results

Ledecky is down to her last two events of nationals, a meet for which she did not fully taper. She’s already on the world team in the 800m and 1500m frees by winning the 800m free by nearly nine seconds on Tuesday. She will likely be on the 4x100m free relay, too.

If Ledecky finishes top two in the 200m free and the 400m free (Friday), she will be in line to contest six events in Budapest, her busiest schedule yet at an Olympics or worlds. In 15 career Olympic/world events, she brought home 14 golds and one silver.

In the men’s 200m free, Olympic bronze medalist Conor Dwyer barely made the final in the eighth and last spot by .12. Townley Haas, who had the fastest split time in the Rio 4x200m free, led the qualifiers, which also included Olympic 100m freestyler Caeleb Dressel in third.

Olympic 100m breast champion Lilly King led the qualifiers into the 200m breast final. King, who failed to make the Rio 200m breast final, clocked 2:24.68, ranking her 13th in the world this year. Olympians Katie Meili and Breeja Larson join King in the final.

Olympic silver medalist Josh Prenot and eighth-place finisher Kevin Cordes highlight the men’s 200m breast finalists.

Kathleen Baker, a Rio 100m back silver medalist, set a personal best in the 200m back by eight tenths to lead the qualifiers into that final. The two Rio Olympians in the event — Maya DiRado and Missy Franklin — are not competing at nationals.

Olympic champion Ryan Murphy and fifth-place finisher Jacob Pebley safely made the men’s 200m back final.

MORE: Missy Franklin: ‘What if I’m never as good as I was?’

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Danell Leyva’s gymnastics streak ends as he pursues acting

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When Danell Leyva trained gymnastics, he needed to devote 100 percent of his time and effort to become a triple Olympic medalist.

“Now that I’m acting, I’m doing the same,” Leyva said recently. “One hundred percent of my time and effort and focus is surrounding acting and the acting world.”

That leaves no time for gymnastics.

Danell Leyva‘s run of 10 straight years competing at the senior U.S. Gymnastics Championships comes to end this summer. Leyva doesn’t really see himself returning to the sport, but he’s also not ruling out.

“It’s hard. It’s hard on the body, a lot of different factors,” Leyva said. “But I feel like [pursuing acting] is what I should be doing now. I feel really happy doing what I’m doing right now.”

Leyva moved from Miami to California in December, four months after bagging two silver medals in Rio. He signed up for acting classes, filmed two commercials (one already aired), appeared in a Nickelodeon show and was a choreography consultant for “Brooklyn Nine-Nine.”

Biggest of all, Leyva bought and opened a production company with one of his managers.

It’s called “Parallel Entertainment,” an obvious homage to Leyva’s best gymnastics event — the parallel bars — where he won the 2011 World title and a 2016 Olympic silver medal.

They have a few shows in development stages already.

“The dream is to definitely make movies,” Leyva said. “I have to set big, lofty goals. Otherwise I can’t keep myself motivated.”

He found similarities between athletic and dramatic pursuits.

“Gymnastics is hard for the sake of being, in my opinion, the hardest sport in the world,” he said. “To make an Olympic team is insane, and to be able to say that you’re part of the few percent that actually won a medal is definitely even harder. That goes exactly the same with acting. Do you know how many actors there are in the world? Just to be in a movie is an immense accomplishment. Imagine being nominated for an award, any award.”

If Leyva does return to the gym, the Cuban-American will resume one of the greatest careers in U.S. history.

Leyva’s accomplishments include a world parallel bars title, an Olympic all-around bronze medal in 2012 and then Olympic silver medals on parallel bars and high bar in a 90-minute span in Rio. He has everything except for an Olympic title.

Which does he savor most? He can’t choose.

“The all-around medal was bittersweet because it wasn’t higher than what I thought it could be, but it was my first Olympic medal,” he said. “The world title was bittersweet because of the fact I was doing so well in the all-around [two days earlier], and I decided to see what the high bar tasted like. Then the two [silver] medals back-to-back [in Rio]. High bar I will say was a little disappointed in myself because I should have stuck that landing [Leyva had a small hop [usually a one tenth deduction] and lost by .266 to Fabian Hambuechen].”

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