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Sprint legend Michael Johnson: Only a few will cheat in sport

Thursday, January 31, 2013
T&T Olympian, hurdler Jenue Gordon, right, meets Olympic gold medallist American Michael Johnson at a press conference, held at the Hilton Trinidad in Port-of-Spain. PHOTO: SHIRLEY BAHADUR

Four-time Olympic gold medallist Michael Johnson is of the view that the zero-tolerance policy relating to the use of performance enhancing drugs in sport should be removed, since not all athletes illegally aspire to manipulate their pathway to victory.


“You are never going to completely eradicate drugs from sport, just like you are never going to completely eradicate crime in society. We do everything we can to eradicate crime from society, but we know that some people are still going to take the short cut. Some people are still going to take that short cut and get something they don’t deserve or get something for nothing,” he said.


Johnson, the nine-time world champion and world record-holder, was responding to a question from the media about the humiliation of Tour de France cyclist Lance Armstrong, who has been stripped of all titles and banned for life for being part of one of the world’s most sophisticated doping scandals.


Yesterday’s press conference, held at the Hilton Trinidad in Port-of-Spain, was to announce that his company, Michael Johnson Performance Centre, based in the United States, was partnering with energy-company bpTT and the T&T Olympic Committee (TTOC) to provide elite training for three national athletes, all with Olympic experience. They are cyclist Njisane Phillip, hurdler Jehue Gordon and Paralympic athlete Shantol Ince. 


“Sport is only a microcosm of society, so we are always going to have those few people in sports that are going to cheat, but it’s just like society: it’s only a few people. We highlight it in sport because we have a zero-tolerance policy in sport. We don’t want anyone cheating. 


“Sport is what we are passionate about, it touches everyone’s lives. You’re either played it; you’re a fan; you’re involved in it (in) some type of way: sports touches everyone’s lives! It brings people together. Sport is extremely powerful so we don’t want people to cheat in sport. Most people don’t (cheat), but we highlight it because it is so important to us,” he said.


Johnson said if someone broke the world record in the discus throw at present it would not make the news in the US, because no one cares about the discus throw in sports, but if that same person tested positive, that would be the headlines in the newspaper.


During the media conference, Johnson reflected on the trials during his career which not many people knew about, citing that they were too consumed by his success.


“People know about the success, but it was not an easy journey for me. In 1988, the early part of that season was a break out year for me. In a span of two weeks I ran the fastest time in the world in the 200 and 400 metres. I ran 10.07 for the 100m. I never ran faster than that for the 100. I fully believe that I would have made our (USA) team had I not gotten injured. 


“By 1992, I had spent two years ranked number one in the world in the 200m and 400m and right before the Olympics (1992), I contracted food poisoning and was not able to make it into the finals. That was very difficult, obviously, to deal with, but I believed in my ability. I believed in my talent. It was proven,” he said.


Johnson said he always recalls being on the flight back from the Olympics in Barcelona and agonising over the circumstances relating to his unsuccessful medal bid in the 200m.


“I remember thinking at that time that I had only lost one race in two years. It was the most important one, but it was the only one. I’m still that athlete that I’ve always been. You have to be arrogant to get over those humps, but I thought all of the people who won those medals have never beaten me before, so why should I give up now. 


“Once that was over, I started to focus on the next goal. I have always been motivated by my goals. Atlanta had already been awarded the 1996 Olympics and I planned to make history in my own country, and that worked out pretty well,” he said. 


Johnson anchored the US 4 x 400m relay team with Jerome Young, Antonio Pettigrew, and Tyree Washington to a win and set a world record of 2:54.20 at the 1998 Goodwill Games in New York. Pettigrew has since admitted doping from 1997, while Young was caught doping in 1999. The world record was annulled by the IAAF in August 2008, and reverted to the time of 2:54:29 which Johnson helped set in the 1993 World Championships.


In June 2008, Johnson voluntarily returned the 4 x 400m relay gold medal he earned in the 2000 Olympics after Pettigrew, who ran the second leg, admitted he took performance enhancing drugs between 1997 and 2001. 


Three of the four runners in the event final, including Pettigrew and twins Alvin and Calvin Harrison, and preliminary round runner Young, all have admitted or tested positive for performance enhancing drugs. Only Johnson and Angelo Taylor, who also ran in preliminary rounds, were not implicated. Johnson had already returned his medal because, as he said, he felt the medal was not won fairly.


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