Saturday, 30 July 2016

Ben Johnson 1988

The BBC website currently has footage of the infamous Olympic 100m final of 1988 online:

Though I can remember the 1984 Olympic Games, this final 4 years later is one of the first sporting events that I remember very clearly.

It was a much-hyped showdown between the man with the all-American super-hero image, Carl Lewis, and the much less media-genic Ben Johnson. Johnson stormed across the line in a world record, but days later was stripped of his title following a positive test for anabolic steroids. The "bad guy" had lost; the clean hero won the day. A great story for the press!

Many years later, a much broader range of facts was on the table. Lewis, whose time became the new world record after Johnson was stripped of his new and previous mark, had failed a drugs test at the US trials - which, had the US athletics authority chosen not to suppress the finding and not apply the rules, would have meant he would have been disqualified from the games. Two of Lewis's training partners failed tests at the same time for the same banned substances. Lewis' response when this came out many years later was essentially "who cares, everyone was doing it."

Linford Christie, who was upgraded from bronze to silver, also failed his drugs test at the Games - but the authorities chose not to disqualify him, probably fearing destroying the event's credibility. Fascinatingly, Johnson's trainer, whilst agreeing that everyone was doing it, continues to assert that Johnson's test was doctored to frame him, because whilst he was taking steroids, he was not taking the one that he tested positive for (but can you believe a cheat?).

Six of the eight finalists tested positive for performance enhancing drugs during their careers. According to Wikipedia, this documentary (I've not listened it to verify the citation) contains an IOC official saying that 80% of the athletes at the 1988 games had endocrine profiles indicating long term steroid use. On that basis, the 100m final was about average - and why would you believe that this event was dramatically different to the others? This was the games at which Florence "Flo-Jo" Griffith-Joyner, infamous for her drastically improved performance and changed appearance and deepened voice, won the 100m gold in a never-since equalled time, having shattered the world record two months before in the quarter finals of the US trials. She also set new world records in the semi final and final of the 200m, also never since equalled - her nearest all-time rival being 10 years later over 2 metres behind - and a self-confessed steroid cheat (Marion Jones).

The 1988 100m final was the first time that 4 men crossed the line in under 10 seconds, 3 of them having failed drugs tests in the games or trials. In the most recent 100m final (London 2012), 7 of the 8 finalists crossed the line in under that time. At least 4 of the 8 previously or subsequently failed a drugs test. Does it arouse your curiosity that the standards are now significantly higher than when everybody was taking steroids?

There are lots of things you could take from this. Everyone loves a story; but the story of the time may not be the whole story. That much is obvious. But, perhaps less obviously, the story that comes out later may not be the whole story either. Statistically, most of the people lining up in these 100m finals are (with time) *known* to be drugs cheats. Given that, it's overwhelmingly likely that there are many, many more unknown drug cheats. Clearly, the chances of not being caught are good enough to persuade a majority of the most tested competitors (those who get to finals and win things) to cheat. Some people cheat and are disgraced; but the odds are good enough to tempt many more to cheat and get away with it for an entire career. 23 athletes entered for the Rio Olympics were found to test positive after having their 2012 London Olympics samples re-tested using the advances of the last 4 years. What would we find if it were possible to re-test the 2000 Olympics samples using 16 years of advances? What would we find if we could do that 50 years from now?

This all makes me thing of the final judgment. Jesus has told us that everything hidden will be revealed - every secret will be put on display. I don't think that athletics will be on the radar of what's considered most important that day - my point isn't "hurrah, at last we'll get an accurate list of world-best times!" I'm using athletics merely as an illustration. The number of "hidden" things which people are betting on keeping covered forever is huge. In many areas, not some, but most of what you see is a lie. But in actual fact, none of it is actually hidden. The one who counts - our Maker and Judge, the one with power to throw both body and soul into Hell - sees all, records all, and will bring all into the spotlight.

We don't now know particularly what is hidden. But anyone who's kept their eyes open and been alive more than a few years (especially if they've been a church elder!) knows that the quantity of it is vast beyond comprehension. However, there is good news. Jesus did not only die for our obvious-to-others sins. He also tells us that, if will repent, make appropriate confession, and turn away from any of our sins, then we may be forgiven. I wonder how many athletes, once their short careers are over, carry a decades-long burden of guilt, knowing that all their fame, glory and achievement was built on a lie.

How many of our lives, though, are built on a lie? But Jesus lived the life we should have lived, and offers it to us. He is the truth, and his life was an open book of holy, pure truth, lived out. The world is full of liars and so it hated him and put him to death. God raised him from the dead, because God and his Truth must triumph in the end. He offers us a fresh start, and to be part of that. But we must abandon the lie. He who is ashamed of Jesus and his words, is someone that Jesus will be ashamed of on the last day - that's not my words; those are his, and therefore they are also true (Mark 8:38).