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Greene record dispels shadow of Johnson’s shame

Greene record dispels shadow of Johnson’s shame
By Giorgio Reineri
By running the fastest race ever run by a man over 60m, America’s Maurice Greene has liberated the world of athletics, and of sport generally, of a complex. We have borne this complex for ten years, more exactly since the night of 26-27 September 1988 when, from Seoul, the sorry news was spread: Canada’s Ben Johnson, winner of the Olympic 100m final had tested positive in an anti-doping control.

The rest of the chronicle of this event is well known: the institution of the Dubin Commission, before whom, on 12 June 1989, Ben Johnson admitted having utilised for an extensive period of time banned substances and the subsequent decision of the IAAF Council to strip Johnson of his gold medal from the 1987 World Championships and of all the records he had established. Among these records was the 6.41 mark he set in the 60m - on 8 March 1987 in the Hoosier Dome in Indianapolis - taking the World Indoors Championships title in the process, ahead of American athletes Lee McRae (6.50) and Mark Witherspoon (6.54).

Though the results of Ben Johnson were struck from the official records of Athletics, they have remained an unmentioned point of reference for commentators, fans, technicians and athletes. The reason is not hard to understand: there was the fear that talent, hard and constant training and self discipline could not produce and certainly not surpass the results that others had obtained through the nefarious practice of doping.

Maurice Greene has laid the ghost of this fear to rest: not by decree, but by willpower, he has surpassed the limit set by Ben Johnson, which those lacking in strength of character have held to be unreachable without the aid of some miraculous pharmaceutical substance.

This two hundredths of a second improvement - the time it takes to bat an eyelid - is of major significance for this reason. It demolishes a record, but more importantly, it has wiped out a complex. The complex which made it difficult to recall, let alone pronounce, the name of Ben Johnson. The complex which told us that the Canadian’s sprint times would - perhaps for ever - have remained an unbeatable point of reference.

But Maurice Greene is a young man who doesn’t have any complexes. If by chance he did have some when, a year and a half ago, he moved from Kansas City to Los Angeles, John Smith stripped them from his mind. John Smith said in a seminar on human limits in athletic performances, organised by the International Athletic Foundation in Budapest last October, that man’s progress had no limits. That the only real limit was that of setting one’s own limits. That the talent of an athlete lies in his powers of imagination and the strength of his desire to achieve what he has imagined.

Greene has imagined running the 60m in 6.37: he is just another bat of the eyelid away from realising that dream. He has also imagined running the 100m in 9.76: he may well be no more than a few months away from making this dream reality. On the day he does it - and this could be soon, because Greene has the ability to dominate adversaries and races as only the greatest athletes can - Ben Johnson will become no more than the memory of the inevitable sin on the troubled path of man’s sporting achievement.