18 Jul

Dirty Talk

Front cover of The Dirtiest Race In History

For the first time ever, a book about running's most infamous incident hits the shelves this summer.

'The Dirtiest Race in History' re-tells the story of the intense rivalry between Carl Lewis and Ben Johnson, their much much-hyped clash in the 1988 Olympic 100m final in Seoul, South Korea and Johnson's subsequent disqualification for a positive drug test.

For fans of the sport it is a story that most would like to forget, but simply cannot. If track and field has a JFK moment, this was surely it. Author Richard Moore is renowned for cycling publications and this is his first foray into athletics, but he has crafted a book that is both engrossing and enlightening.

He finds Ben Johnson still in Toronto, with little contrition and still bitter over what he believes to be sabotage. Yet he is seemingly very accessible and hospitable. Lewis proves more elusive with a snatched interview at a media event his only direct contribution to the book. However, Moore gleans ample material from the Lewis camp perspective via Joe Douglas, of Santa Monica Track Club, who held both coaching and managerial roles with the nine-times Olympic gold medal-winning American.

There are also interesting insights from disgraced former British and Scottish 400m international David Jenkins - arrested for his role in a $100m steroid trafficking business, former 100m world record holder and upgraded 1988 bronze medallist Calvin Smith and respected and experienced British athletics journalists Doug Gillon (Glasgow Herald) and Neil Wilson (Daily Mail).

There are fascinating new revelations over the role of American journeyman sprinter Andre Jackson and his unwarranted presence in the post-race drug testing area with Johnson in Seoul. However, the author is careful not to overplay the role of Jackson, as Johnson was a proven drug cheat over many years.

There are also interesting details over the alleged nine positive drug tests from the 1984 Olympics that never saw the light of day, including the continued refrigeration and existence of the urine samples 28 years on.

It is also floated in the book that Johnson was not tested at all after winning 100m gold at the 1987 World Championships in Rome. Why? Because he was being wined and dined by the IAAF President of the time, Primo Nebiolo.

For true fans of athletics, some of this can make uncomfortable reading. Yet for anyone who closely followed the sport at the time, much it will resonate as a book that brilliantly captures what was arguably the most dramatic event in the sport's history.