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.

Lucas Braathen, world’s top male slalom skier, in doubt for world championships

Lucas Braathen
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Norway’s Lucas Braathen, the world’s top male slalom skier this season, is doubtful to compete in the world championships slalom on Feb. 19 after appendix surgery on Tuesday.

“It’s been a tough couple of days fighting after surprisingly finding out about quite an intense infection on my appendix,” Braathen, a 22-year-old soccer convert with a Brazilian mom, posted on social media. “I’ve been through surgery and I’m blessed that it went successfully.”

The Norway Alpine skiing team doctor said Braathen’s recovery will take a few weeks, but there is a small possibility he can make it back for the world championships slalom, which is on the final day of the two-week competition.

Braathen has two slalom wins and one giant slalom win this World Cup season. He will miss Saturday’s slalom in Chamonix, France, the last race before worlds. Countryman Henrik Kristoffersen and Swiss Daniel Yule can overtake him atop the World Cup slalom standings in Chamonix.

Braathen entered last year’s Olympics as the World Cup slalom leader and skied out in the first run at the Games.

ALPINE SKIING WORLDS: Broadcast Schedule

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Sifan Hassan sets marathon debut

Sifan Hassan
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Sifan Hassan, who won 5000m and 10,000m gold and 1500m bronze at the Tokyo Olympics in an unprecedented triple, will make her 26.2-mile debut at the London Marathon on April 23.

Hassan, a 30-year-old Dutchwoman, said she will return to the track after the race, but how the London Marathon goes will play into whether she bids for the Olympic marathon in 2024.

“I want to see what I can do on the marathon distance, to make future decisions,” she posted on social media. “We’ll see if I will finish the distance or if the distance will finish me.”

Exhausted by her Olympic feat, Hassan reportedly went at least seven months after the Tokyo Games between training in track spikes. She finished fourth in the 10,000m and sixth in the 5000m at last July’s world championships in Eugene, Oregon.

“I really needed a break after the Tokyo Olympics,” Hassan said at worlds. “I was mentally crashed. I didn’t even care about running.”

London, billed as the best women’s marathon field in history, also boasts Olympic champion Peres Jepchirchir of Kenya, world record holder Brigid Kosgei of Kenya, 2016 Olympic 10,000m champion Almaz Ayana of Ethiopia, 1500m world record holder Genzebe Dibaba of Ethiopia and the two fastest Americans in history, Emily Sisson and Keira D’Amato.

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