#AtoZChallenge – Letter B – Ben Johnson


1988 was the year we got our first color television – a BPL TV that served us for the better part of 12 years. I remember watching with fascination the Doordarshan soaps not to mention Chitrahaar, the cricket and football matches. 1988 also happened to be the year I was diagnosed with something that I would have to live with for the rest of my life, so the TV was a source of companionship as well. I had read in the papers about the Olympic Games in Seoul, South Korea. Nothing of the magnitude of the Olympic Games had ever been shown on TV, so the excitement was at its crescendo as mid-September approached.

The variety of sports on display was eye-catching for the 9-year-old that I was. But athletics was what really grabbed my attention and was what I was looking forward to watch. More specifically, the 100m race. In school, we used to have running races and our physical education teacher had thrown enough hints about the need for racing fast. Thus it was on September 24, 1988 that I first saw Ben Johnson in action. From start to finish, the 100m race was adrenaline packed, not just for the athletes but for the spectators as well.

Johnson was a treat to watch – those sinewy biceps, clockwork-like movement of the arms, the spectacular sprint, the dash to the finish – all over in less than 10 seconds with a World Record and a gold medal to boot! Never before or after have I seen an athlete exude so much power, but it was not brute power, it was graceful and arresting. On that night, I think Ben Johnson changed the way we perceived 100m races. There have been several athletes who have graced 100m races with utmost distinction such as Carl Lewis, Linford Christie, Maurice Greene, Justin Gatlin and Usain Bolt. But watching them run, the feeling was never quite the same as watching Johnson run. That was special. That was different. That was the best.

Ben Johnson was subsequently stripped off his gold medal at the 1988 Olympics because of doping, but that does not take away the fact that he was a brilliant athlete. There was the animal instinct on display in his sprint; it was not the instinct of a cheetah running fast to pounce on its prey but rather a subtler, steely instinct. He was not his old self on coming back after disqualification and suspension in 1991. That Johnson was a pale shadow of his powerful self in 1988. The Ben Johnson I will remember for the rest of my life is that muscular man who ran the 100m in just 9.79 seconds!

Written as part of the Blogging from A to Z April Challenge – http://www.a-to-zchallenge.com/